After spending more than a year at a middle-of-the-road three-star rank, AK Steel (NYSE: AKS) has impressed enough top-performing members of our 160,000-strong Motley Fool CAPS community to at least temporarily join the list of four-star-rated stocks lately. A total of 819 members have given their opinion on the steel producer, with many of them offering analysis and commentary explaining the recent optimism.

The potential for AK Steel to benefit from an eventual economic turnaround has spurred growing bullish sentiment in CAPS, and the company has recently seen some early signs of an improving market that should positively affect its financials despite higher raw-material costs. While the U.S. construction markets are still showing signs of weakness, automotive sales have shown signs of new life, with automakers such as Ford (NYSE: F), Toyota, and General Motors all posting year-over-year sales increases north of 40% in March. Companies such as Ford were offering zero-percent or near-zero-percent loans to increase volume, so only time will tell whether they can continue at this breakneck speed.  

Major shifts in the iron ore supply chain should also help AK Steel: The big three iron ore miners that control a majority of the market -- Vale (NYSE: VALE), BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP), and Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP) -- have recently anchored big price increases with foreign consumers as demand for metals in China has fueled consumption. The price increases and change to quarterly iron ore contracts -- which marks a major shift from the way these miners have set annual contracts for years -- also bodes well for domestic steel producers. Some analysts see the changes making AK Steel and U.S. Steel (NYSE: X) more competitive globally, with the new pricing environment also benefiting major North American iron ore producer Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF) at the same time it stokes coking coal producers.

One JPMorgan analyst expects that domestic steelmakers will be able to more quickly pass on the rising costs to their customers, and AK Steel has already raised its prices on some products more than once this year, partly because of rising materials costs and partly because of increased demand. With the market heating up again, even Moody's recently raised its rating outlook on AK Steel after considering its potential for earnings recovery this year.

Do you think AK Steel deserves its raised status? Add your thoughts in the comments box below on this page, or head over to CAPS to rate the company and check out all the information and opinions the community offers, absolutely free.

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Fool contributor Dave Mock owns no shares of companies mentioned here. Ford Motor is a Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy can bend steel with its bare hands.