A number of headwinds working against AK Steel Holding Corporation (NYSE:AKS) resulted in a big drop in earnings during the first quarter. Net sales rose slightly to $1.38 billion but outages and a legal settlement resulted in a net loss of $86.1 million, or $0.63, in the quarter.

Higher costs for everything from energy to iron ore affected margins in the first quarter and a 3% increase in sale prices weren't enough to overcome those costs.

A surprise profit in the fourth quarter gave investors some hope that operations could turn around and AK Steel could make a profit in 2014, but this is a rough start to the year. Unless costs come down significantly, it's questionable whether the company can break even this year or hit analysts' expected $0.07 per share earnings target.

Pricing and costs can be very volatile for AK Steel and until it proves the ability to make a profit long term this isn't a stock I'd be betting on, particularly as input costs are on the rise.

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.