NEW YORK (TheStreet)- Nucor (NUE) and Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) are likely to underperform their metal peers during the current earnings season on possible earnings misses, and a demand downturn for their products.

Steel major AK Steel ( AKS) could miss predicted earnings estimates for the second quarter. However, declining iron ore prices will work to the company's advantage and avert any major weakening in the stock.

Nucor

Nucor is scheduled to announce second-quarter earnings on Thursday before the markets open. In the mid-quarter guidance released on June 15, the company anticipated earnings in the range of 20 cents to 25 cents a share, in contrast to the 10 cents a share in the previous quarter and a loss of 43 cents in the year-ago quarter. The guidance is well below the consensus estimate of 26 cents a share, according to analysts polled by Bloomberg.

Projected second-quarter results include an estimated LIFO charge of $47 million vs. $24 million in the prior quarter. Nucor expects operating results to improve during the quarter due to higher margins.

Capacity utilization rates at steel mills are expected to track the first quarter (73%), with beam mills and plate mills showing marginal improvements from the first quarter rates of 55% and 63%, respectively. The American Iron and Steel Institute reports capacity utilization rates for U.S. steel mills during the second quarter in the range of 70.8% to 74.6%, in contrast to the first-quarter range of 61.5% to 71.7%.

Operating rates at U.S. steel mills have improved significantly during the second quarter, while Nucor's operating rates have improved marginally.

Daniel DiMicco, Nucor chairman and CEO, remarked last month that customers will pause before ordering for the third quarter in order to observe the demand situation. Currently, Nucor has four buy, seven hold, and one sell rating, according to TheStreet's Analyst ratings guide.

At $39.10, Nucor is trading at a higher price-to-earnings ratio of 30.6. In comparison, U.S. Steel ( X), AK Steel, Steel Dynamics ( STLD), and Worthington Industries ( WOR) are trading at P/E ratios of 23.18.0, 13.6 and 11.1, respectively.

In contrast to other steel majors, Nucor has a lower equity beta value due to its high dividend yield, which reduces the risk the stock carries.

Cliffs Natural ResourcesCliffs Natural Resources, a loser on falling iron ore prices, is scheduled to announce its second-quarter results on July 28 after the markets close.

Analysts polled by Bloomberg expect the company to report earnings of $2.07 a share, weighed against earnings of 36 cents a share and 69 cents a share during the second quarter of 2009 and first quarter of 2010, respectively. Over the past month, consensus earnings estimates of analysts for the second quarter declined from $2.22 to the current $2.07 a share.

Sales for the period are expected at $1,21 billion compared to $392 million a year earlier, and $728 million in the year-ago quarter. Meanwhile, earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for the quarter is expected at $453 million from $42 million and $178 million in the second quarter of 2009 and first quarter of 2010, respectively.

During the second quarter, Cliffs could realize a 75% year-on-year increase for iron ore prices in sharp contrast to a 130% increase in iron ore for global settlements, according to analysts at JPMorgan. Long-term contracts with companies such as ArcelorMittal ( MT) could perhaps be the reason for Cliffs not realizing higher iron ore prices in the North American markets.

The stock has 10 buy, four hold, and no sell ratings, as per TheStreet's Analyst ratings guide.

Karvy Global Services (www.karvyglobal.com), a subsidiary of the Karvy group (www.karvy.com), provides specialized research in asset classes including stocks, mutual funds and insurance to leading Wall Street firms.

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