Higher demand for steel led AK Steel ( AKS) to post a quarterly profit for the first time since the fourth quarter of 2002.

The Middletown, Ohio-based steel manufacturer said second-quarter net income was $92.7 million, or 85 cents a share, up from a loss of $78.2 million, or 72 cents a share, in the same period last year.

The latest quarter's earnings included a gain of $44.2 million, or 41 cents a share, on the sale of the company's Houston industrial park and a tax benefit of $27.2 million, related to discontinued operations.

Excluding these gains, the company had income from continuing operations of $20.2 million, or 18 cents a share, up from a loss of $86.6 million, or 80 cents a share, a year earlier.

Sales rose to $1.31 billion from $981.3 million, on a 12% increase in tons shipped.

Analysts had expected earnings of 16 cents a share on revenue of $1.23 billion.

The company said higher demand spurred higher shipment volumes and higher spot market pricing helped boost revenue.

AK Steel said it expects continued improvements in its operating profitability for the third quarter and second half of 2004. The expected improvements are due primarily to anticipated higher selling prices, lower planned maintenance and overhead costs that, collectively, are expected to more than offset higher raw material costs.

Shares of AK Steel were recently down 20 cents, or 2.8%, to $7.