CHARLOTTE, N.C. (TheStreet) -- Nucor (NUE), the big steelmaker, outdid Wall Street profit expectations when it reported second-quarter results before the opening bell Thursday, but the company continued to describe its near-term business prospects in cautious, downbeat tones.

In contrast to other industrial giants, from Caterpillar ( CAT) to Freeport McMoRan ( FCX) to 3M ( MMM), which have enthused this earnings season about a building recovery, Nucor once again introduced its own bit of worry and gloominess into the proceedings, like Eeyore.
Eeyore

In a statement, Nucor said, "The continuation of the upward trend experienced through the first half of the year is by no means clear at present. There is a general slowdown taking place across all product lines as the overall economy has entered into a new period of uncertainty. This is the case both in the U.S. and globally."

Led by its outspoken CEO, Dan DiMicco, the company has a long history of offering up conservative takes on its business prospects.

It's true, thought, that a large chunk of Nucor's business is the manufacture and sale of steel used in rebar and I-beams. For the company to return to full health, then, Nucor requires the recovery of the construction industry, which by all accounts remains moribund. "The most challenging markets for our products continue to be those associated with residential and non-residential construction, which continue to show little, if any, strength," Nucor said in its earnings release. The language was almost identical to that used by the company over the last handful of quarters.

A host of concerns had spooked the steel industry heading into this earnings season, including the notion that steelmakers had increased capacity a bit too quickly in the first part of the year, getting ahead of real demand. Nucor appears to have responded to this. The company said overall operating rates at its mills fell slightly compared to the first quarter of the year, to 71% of total capacity from 73%.

In the second quarter, Nucor, a scrap-metal recycler that produces more steel than any other U.S. manufacturer, reversed a year-ago loss as prices for its steel jumped 25% from a year ago and shipments to outside customers rose 35%.

As a result, Nucor posted profit of $91 million, or 29 cents a share, better than the consensus estimate among sell side analysts of 26 cents a share. In the second period of 2009, Nucor lost $133 million, or 43 cents a share.

Revenue rose 15% from last year to $4.2 billion.

On a gangbuster day for U.S. equities generally, Nucor shares were solidly in the green. In morning trading Thursday, the stock was changing hands at $40.34, up 3% from the previous close.

Other steel names were also gaining ground: U.S. Steel ( X) and AK Steel ( AKS), both slated to report results on Tuesday, were rising 3.4% and 4.2% respectively.

Nucor's smaller electric-arc-furnace peer, Steel Dynamics ( STLD), also gave a downbeat outlook when it released results Monday evening. But amid a bullish week of trading, albeit on light midsummer volumes, steelmaker shares have advanced.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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Scott Eden has covered business -- both large and small -- for more than a decade. Prior to joining TheStreet.com, he worked as a features reporter for Dealmaker and Trader Monthly magazines. Before that, he wrote for the Chicago Reader, that city's weekly paper. Early in his career, he was a staff reporter at the Dow Jones News Service. His reporting has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Men's Journal, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, and the Believer magazine, among other publications. He's also the author of Touchdown Jesus (Simon & Schuster, 2005), a nonfiction book about Notre Dame football fans and the business and politics of big-time college sports. He has degrees from Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis.

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