NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Nucor ( NUE) cautioned that its first-quarter earnings will likely fall below Wall Street expectations, but investors shrugged off that short-term forecast, preferring to focus on the good news implicit in heightened capacity at its steel mills.Nucor, which often releases a quarterly preview of its results, said it expects to post a per-share bottom line anywhere from a loss of 5 cents to a profit of 5 cents for the first period, which ends April 3. That EPS number includes an inventory-adjustment charge of $23 million (related to its last-in-first-out, or LIFO, accounting measures). That translates to about a nickel per share. Analysts were expecting Nucor to post net income of 15 cents a share in the quarter, according to a poll by Thomson Reuters. Nucor's predictions would be far better than the loss of 60 cents the company reported in the year-ago first quarter, at the depths of the recession. Shares of the scrap-metal recycler and mini-mill operator ended trading Tuesday at $46.07, up 95 cents, or 2% from the previous close. Nucor said its orders from its steel mills will likely increase by 23% compared with a year ago. Production and shipments, meanwhile, will grow by 26% and 20%, the company said. Mills that fabricate sheet and plate steel will, Nucor expects, operate at 85% and 90% capacity in the first quarter, respectively. That's up from the same period of 2009, when those mills were at 63% and 68%, Nucor said. "The strong growth in orders likely indicates that current operating rates are sustainable for at least another quarter," analyst Mark Parr, of KeyBanc Capital Markets, wrote in a note to clients. He attributed the company's strong sheet-metal capacity to "continued positive momentum" from the auto industry.