I suppose you could call it a meltdown. It's not supposed to happen to steel companies, except when they're producing product at goodness knows how many degrees. But with demand falling like rebar from on high, Pittsburgh's very own U.S. Steel (NYSE:X) managed to chalk up a horrendous March quarter.

By whatever designation, the company's quarter wasn't pretty. Its loss amounted to $439 million, compared to earnings of $235 million in the year-ago quarter. At that order of magnitude, the per-share line is almost meaningless, but the most recent rendition was a negative $3.78, versus $1.98 to the positive in the first quarter of 2008. But that's what happens when the products that emerge from your plants go into automobiles, washing machines, and oilfield drill pipe, all items that are in far less demand than at this time a year ago.

Indeed, that may be the biggest shocker in this whole state of affairs. As recently as last July, the action was wild and wooly enough in the world of steel that the big mining and minerals companies, like BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP) and Vale (NYSE:RIO), were all but bringing steelmakers to their knees with iron ore price escalations. For instance, early last summer, BHP reached an agreement to hike its fine iron ore levy to China's Baosteel by 80%.

But back to U.S. Steel: The company didn't stop with the disclosure of its morbid earnings picture. There's also an all-hands-on deck management effort to angle toward renewed profitability and higher liquidity. Included is a cut in the quarterly dividend from $0.30 to a nickel, a $330 million chop to planned 2009 capex, a nearly 9,500 employee reduction in the workforce, and an agreement with the United Steelworkers for the delay of up to $170 million retiree insurance contributions.

What used to be called "Big Steel" operated at just 40% of capacity in the most recent quarter, below the average steel mill’s breakeven point. And its unimpressive results follow a quarterly disaster by soft metal producer Alcoa (NYSE:AA), which as tradition almost dictates, led off the parade of corporate earnings releases.

Just the other day, my Foolish colleague Chris Barker told you about the sizable charges and losses taken by steelmakers Nucor (NYSE:NUE) and Steel Dynamics (NASDAQ:STLD). Chris may disagree -- we Fools often do that in a healthy way  -- but I can't conceive of a single reason to put my pesos into U.S. Steel or its steelmaking amigos.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does welcome your questions, comments or kibitzing. The Fool has a disclosure policy.