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Steelmakers Ride Higher Prices, Expansion

Global steelmakers are increasing prices and announcing expansion plans.

Nucor (NUE) - Get Nucor Corporation Report said Tuesday it would increase prices of most of its steel products by at least $40 a ton.

Analysts polled by


expect the company to report earnings of 6 cents a share for the first quarter compared with a year-earlier loss of 60 cents and profit of 18 cents a share in previous fourth quarter.

Moody's on Monday upgraded its outlook for

AK Steel

(AKS) - Get AK Steel Holding Corporation Report

to "stable" from negative. Analysts polled by


estimate the company to report profit of 25 cents a share in the first quarter, a swing from a year-earlier loss of 67 cents.

Both the U.S. steel majors are scheduled to report first-quarter earnings sometime next week.

Global steel producers have been

announcing expansion plans in recent weeks


Hyundai Steel

, South Korea's second-largest steelmaker after

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(PKX) - Get POSCO Report

, plans to build a third blast furnace in order to meet increasing demand from builders and automakers. The 4 million-ton expansion will take the company's total capacity to 23.5 million tons.

Hyundai Steel's shares appreciated 5.3% year to date, clearly outperforming the 11.8% decline in Posco's stock and the 3.1% gain in the Kospi Index, a capitalization-weighted index of all common shares on the Korean Stock Exchange.

Meanwhile, Posco started construction work at its second plant for automobile sheet in Huabei, China. This plant will have an annual capacity of 120,000 tons and is expected to play a pivotal role in serving Chinese and global automakers in Tianjin and Huabei regions. Posco has

plans to raise its overall steel production

to 34.5 million tons this year.

In addition, Posco is looking to expand capacity in India by acquiring forest land with plans to form a joint venture with state-owned Steel Authority of India. Posco is likely to hold a 60% stake in the venture that could have an annual capacity of 3 million to 4 million tons. Posco and Steel Authority of India were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the "2010 Steelmaker Competitiveness Assessment" published by World Steel Dynamics.

According to the Indian steel ministry, steel consumption in the country grew 7.6% during fiscal 2010 to 56.3 million tons from 52.3 million tons in fiscal 2009, riding on strong demand from the automobile, infrastructure, and housing sectors. Meanwhile, production rose 4.2% to 60 million tons. The ministry expects steel prices to remain at current levels during the year ending March 2011.

Earlier this month,

Tata Steel

, the world's eighth-largest steelmaker, announced an 18% increase in sales volume during the Indian fiscal year ended March 31, 2010. The Indian operations of the company account for about one-quarter of the group's total annual global capacity of 30 million tons, which includes


, Europe's second-largest steelmaker.

Another Indian steel major,

JSW Steel

, announced its highest-ever quarterly crude steel production during the last quarter of fiscal 2010. Crude steel output was up 66% year over year and 9% over the previous quarter.