Steel in 2013: What AK Steel's Earnings Mean

AK Steel (NYSE: AKS  ) reported fourth-quarter and full-year 2012 results that included an adjusted loss of $0.30 a share. That loss wasn't as bad as the street was expecting -- the company's revenue met analysts' outlook of $1.42 billion. Despite the loss, the company ended the year with solid liquidity of $1.1 billion.

AK Steel's results were further affected by pre-tax charges which added another $1.59 a share in losses. When factoring in those charges, earnings came in at loss of $1.89 a share. Neither charge affected the company's overall cash flow.

The overall loss for the company was due to a lower average selling price thanks to a combination of lower spot market prices for its carbon steel products, reduced raw material surcharges and a less-rich, value-added product mix. Despite all this, results still came in better than the market expected.

The company's results continue to be affected by "sluggish economic conditions" which "affected global demand and selling prices for steel products," according to CEO James Wainscott. He also said that the good news is that the company "remains well positioned to take advantage of market opportunities ... as the economy continues to slowly recover." He believes the company will see significantly better results in 2013.

This rosy outlook wasn't necessarily shared by U.S. Steel (NYSE: X  ) The company's outlook on the other hand was more muted as it saw a market challenged by uncertain economic conditions as steel buyers continued to exercise caution. However, the company did see increases in its daily order rate which it believes is suggesting that spot market demand is starting to pick up.

Nucor (NYSE: NUE  ) also saw small improvements in its construction end markets. The company saw the most strength in automotive, energy, and heavy equipment end markets, which again suggests that the steel industry is slowly seeing a bit of a rebound. 

This could be good news for metallurgical coal and iron ore miner Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF  ) . The company is a virtual one-stop shop for both of the major ingredients used to make steel. A pickup in steel demand would likely yield an increase in sales and profits for Cliffs.

Overall, the outlook for AK Steel and the rest of the steel industry certainly is positive. Demand appears to be picking up, with some markets showing real strength. AK Steel believes that it's positioned to take advantage of these opportunities, which could finally mean some positive returns for its long suffering investors.

Looking for an investment more levered to the steel industry?
Cliffs Natural Resources could be your ticket. The company has grown from a domestic iron ore producer into an international player in both the iron ore and metallurgical coal markets. It has underperformed over the last year, relative to many competitors, in a very cyclical industry. A sharper rebound could be on the horizon because of several factors that are likely to remain advantageous for Cliffs' management. For details on these advantages and more, click here now to check out The Motley Fool's brand-new premium report on the company.

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