Soft times continue for the makers of hardened steel, but the absolute imperative of forthcoming infrastructure investments in the U.S. makes Nucor's (NYSE: NUE) recent acquisition of Skyline Steel  a brilliant strategic move.

Nucor molded and pressed its way through a challenging second quarter marked by weaker pricing, a market oversupply in flat-rolled products, and a non-cash hit from the European financial crisis. The steelmaker's net earnings of $112.3 million included a small charge relating to the Skyline acquisition, and a $30 million impairment charge from its Duferdofin joint venture launched in Italy in 2008. While Duferdofin takes its licks from a case of unfortunate timing, last month's $684 million Skyline acquisition looks perfectly timed to this Fool.

Building upon his proactive vision "for the betterment of current and future generations of Americans" -- an exciting call to action hosted here on the company's website and summarized here in a prior article -- Nucor CEO Dan DiMicco is welding actions to his words by preparing his company to facilitate the kinds of infrastructure investments that will be key to forging a sustainable way out of this persistent economic malaise. While characterizing the recent $60 billion extension of the highway bill as a step in the right direction, Nucor pointed to estimates that it could take up to $2 trillion "to rebuild our crumbling domestic infrastructure." DiMicco adds:

These are investments that must be made and will provide returns many times over during the next 50 years. They must be started now as we are years behind, and we need the millions of jobs and economic growth that are proven to come with REAL infrastructure investments.

Skyline Steel erects large-scale steel foundations for "marine construction, bridge and highway construction, heavy civil construction, storm protection, underground commercial parking, and environment containment projects in the infrastructure and construction industries." This acquisition helps position Nucor to play a leadership role in fabricating a sustainable return to American prosperity, and I believe the move will continue to set Nucor apart as the superior investment choice for steel.

Over the past five years, which of course has included some of the most challenging market conditions for industrial manufacturers in generations, Nucor has proved its mettle by outperforming its peers while paying generous dividends and making key strategic investments for its long-term future. As you'll see, Nucor has breezed by U.S. Steel (NYSE: X) and global powerhouse ArcelorMittal (NYSE: MT) and even beat the more buoyant performances by able competitors Steel Dynamics (Nasdaq: STLD) and Schnitzer Steel (Nasdaq: SCHN).

NUE data by YCharts

Last October, I expressed my view that I expected "the obvious performance gap between Nucor and less desirable rival U.S. Steel to widen further," and that is exactly what has transpired since. The following chart gauges their relative stock performance since the date that article appeared.

NUE data by YCharts

Nucor CEO Dan DiMicco has simultaneously proved himself as both a vocal defender of the productive ideals upon which this nation's prior prosperity was founded and a protector of shareholder value through his effective leadership of this icon of American industry. Though it is currently underwater, I will retain my bullish CAPScall on Nucor because I see a proactive path to profit when I peer over the Nucor skyline.