What happened

Shares of U.S. Steel (NYSE:X) look red-hot this afternoon, up 7.9% in 1:45 p.m. EDT trading on the back of positive news about the health of the U.S. steel industry.

So what

What news, specifically? According to the latest weekly update out of the American Iron and Steel Institute, raw steel production in the U.S. climbed 0.3% sequentially over the past week, rising to 1.484 million net tons of steel produced, while steel-capacity utilization climbed 50 basis points to 66.6%.  

Mind you, this data relates to all steel produced and all steel-production capacity utilized by all U.S. steelmakers in general -- not just U.S. Steel in particular. Still, if what's good for the steel industry is also good for U.S. Steel, then this latest data sounds pretty good.

Molten steel being poured in a foundry.

Image source: Getty Images.

Now what

There is, however, an important caveat to bear in mind. Specifically, the fact that when compared to where we were a year ago, the U.S. steel industry is still in quite a bit of a slump. Year over year, steel production remains down 17.7%, and capacity utilization is 1,110 basis points lower (i.e., utilization was 77.7% a year ago).

With U.S. Steel reporting losses of $1.7 billion over the past year, it's going to take a whole lot more than fraction-of-a-percent increases to emerge fully from its slump. For the giant steelmaker, this recession remains a long way from over.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.