Steel Dynamics Rises on Update Outlook

(Steel Dynamics earnings item updated for stock price movement and analyst commentary.)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. ( TheStreet) -- Steel Dynamics ( STLD) missed Wall Street expectations on both the top and bottom lines for the fourth quarter, but gave a tentatively upbeat outlook for 2011.

Bullish words from Steel Dynamics CEO Keith Busse appeared to outweigh the earnings shortfall in the minds of investors. Shares of the company, which makes its steel chiefly from recycled scrap, were rising 2.4% to $18.15 in midday trading Monday, as stock prices across the metals and mining complex moved higher.

Looking ahead, Busse said that he expects results for the first quarter to be "substantially improved" compared with the final period of 2010. "We could see increased volumes compared to 2010 for both our steel and metals recycling operations," Busse said in his prepared statement, adding that he expects to see growth in the important steel end markets of auto, energy and -- at long last -- construction, which uses more steel than any other U.S. end market.

"Residential and non-residential construction activity is likely now at its bottom; thus, we expect to see continued soft to very moderate near-term growth in demand in this sector," Busse said.

Steelmakers have spent the last month steadily ratcheting up prices for their products. Squeezed by rising raw materials costs, including scrap metal, the hot-metal industry has attempted to pass those costs on to customers. But Busse's words appeared to affirm that rising demand has supported the price hikes.

>>Investors Steel Selves For Steel's 2011

"We expect a fairly balanced initial market reaction to this morning's release, as recent developments in the steel and scrap markets have already hinted that the first quarter is off to a strong start," wrote KeyBank Capital Markets analyst Mark Parr in a morning note to clients. "However, further confirmation of this improving momentum will likely move the stock in a more positive direction."

Steel Dynamics reported adjusted fourth-quarter earnings of 7 cents a share. Analysts were looking for 9 cents. Revenue came to $1.5 billion, missing targets of $1.6 billion.

The company said it had to take an unexpected asset impairment charge of $13 million, or 3 cents a share, to write down the carrying value of an idled fabrication plant in South Carolina. Including the charge, the company earned $8 million, or 4 cents a share.

Those profit figures are down sharply from a year ago, when Steel Dynamics earned $27 million, or 12 cents a share. Revenue in the fourth quarter of 2009 was $1.2 billion.

The American steel industry steps up to bat this week for fourth-quarter results. U.S. Steel ( X) and AK Steel ( AKS) are scheduled to report on Tuesday. Nucor ( NUE) is slated to go on Thursday.

Investors bid up steel names Monday. AK Steel was gaining more than 2% and U.S. Steel more than 3%. Shares of Commerical Metals ( CMC), meanwhile, which chiefly supplies the construction industry, were rising 4%.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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