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Nucor Corporation (NUE), Steel Dynamics, Inc. (STLD), AK Steel Holding Corporation (AKS): What’s In Store for Steel Stocks?

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Earnings season is dead. Long live earnings season!

As the calendar flips over on the final earnings season of 2012, investors move briskly ahead into Q1. According to tradition, the first quarterly earnings season of 2013 will begin with Alcoa Inc (NYSE:AA)‘s Q2 announcement on Monday, April 8. But to tell the truth, I’m not all that interested in what the aluminum manufacturer has to say. What interests me — and more importantly, what I’ve got to tell you today — concerns steel stocks instead.

You see, no sooner has Alcoa kicked off the season, than steelmaker earnings will come tumbling out, and tripping all over each other. On April 15, Nucor Corporation (NYSE:NUE) will report, followed shortly thereafter by fellow mini-mill operator Steel Dynamics, Inc. (NASDAQ:STLD) .

Nucor Corporation (NYSE:NUE)

A week later, on April 23, it will be AK Steel Holding Corporation (NYSE:AKS)‘s turn to deliver earnings — more on that in a moment. Then venerable U.S. Steel Canada Inc. will chime in on April 29. Last but not least, the world’s biggest steel concern, ArcelorMittal (ADR) (NYSE:MT), will straggle into place with its earnings report on May 11. Five cold-rolled lumps of steelmaking news, delivered to your doorstep in the space of four short weeks.

But what will that news be?

Here’s your earnings preview
Actually, the news these companies deliver next month may not be much of “news” at all. Just last week you see, Ohioan steelmaker AK Steel gave us some earnings guidance, giving investors a heads up that:

Its steel shipments will be down 7%-10% sequentially from Q4 levels.

The company will attempt to offset declining profits by raising its prices 5% on what steel it does manage to sell.

At the granular level, automotive steel shipments will show some strength, and raw material costs may be down.

But this will be offset by what AK Steel Holding Corporation (NYSE:AKS) calls “normal cyclical” weakness in the spot steel market.

Nucor agrees
AK Steel Holding Corporation (NYSE:AKS)’s advice generally jibes with what we’ve been hearing from AK’s peers. For example, Nucor recently warned that its Q1 earnings could run anywhere from $0.20-$0.25 per share, and will therefore be down roughly by half both year over year (in comparison to Q1 2012) and also sequentially (in comparison to Q4 2012). So the trend in profitability is clearly down.

That being said, Nucor Corporation (NYSE:NUE) is seeing some strength in automotive steel sales (although “sheet steel” in general is “weakening”), and in “energy” (read: “pipelines”) as well. Negative trends include a lack of “seasonal improvement that is typical” for Nucor Corporation (NYSE:NUE) in Q1 — but apparently not for AK Steel Holding Corporation (NYSE:AKS). Also, Nucor Corporation (NYSE:NUE) seems upset that high “import levels” of cheap foreign steel are swelling supplies and depressing prices.

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