Introducing the Sheriff of Steel

Hazzard County had Sheriff Rosco; the top gun of the steel industry could just be POSCO (NYSE: PKX  ) . In the quest for profit, this sheriff is taking no prisoners.

After posting two record-beating quarters in a row, including a 51% year-over-year increase in operating profit for the second quarter, this Korean steelmaker raised guidance for 2008 for a second time and informed the market that it sees profits for the third quarter besting Wall Street's consensus estimates.  Despite this growing string of successes, POSCO's shares still trade approximately 50% below their 52-week high.

American steelmaker Nucor (NYSE: NUE  ) recently raised its guidance for the present quarter as well, citing the cheaper scrap metal prices that have punished shares of dealers like Metalico (AMEX: MEA  ) and Sims Group (NYSE: SMS  ) . POSCO's positive outlook, on the other hand, comes in the face of a challenging price environment for the more traditional steelmakers. POSCO's management is attributing the successful quarter to continued strong sales and solid execution on cost-saving measures.

POSCO continues to impress with its ability to wiggle its way out of tight jams. Earlier in the year, the company managed to raise steel prices sufficiently to maintain margins while taking care not to snuff out the cauldron of demand for steel products. More recently, as the late summer ushered in some vicious weakness for commodity prices across the board, POSCO responded in kind by reducing stainless steel prices by 10% in August.

Since input costs for coal and iron ore remained high on the heels of negotiated annual contracts from major suppliers like Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP  ) and BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP  ) , I find this positive profit guidance all the more indicative of an effective management regime. While rival ArcelorMittal (NYSE: MT  ) has announced plans to reduce output by up to 15% in anticipation of weaker demand, POSCO is moving aggressively downstream with its pending bid for Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering.

At the same time, POSCO is expanding production geographically into promising emerging markets like India and Vietnam. If POSCO can capitalize on ArcelorMittal's planned contraction by capturing additional global market share, then the Korean sheriff of steel may just wind up becoming that cigar-toting top cat: Boss Hogg.

Further Foolishness:

POSCO is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Try the market-beating, dividend-focused service today via a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Christopher Barker captains yachts and writes about stocks. He can also be found blogging actively and acting Foolishly within the CAPS community under the username TMFSinchiruna. He owns shares of BHP Billiton and Metalico. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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