[Ferro-Alloys.com] After more than a decade working behind the scenes to protect the US steel industry from unfairly traded imports, Kevin Dempsey has taken over as interim chief executive at the steel industry's trade group, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI). Dempsey assumed the role as the steel industry grapples with the fallout from the Covid-19-related economic downturn, creating a difficult situation to manage at home while also remaining focused on supporting the domestic industry in the face of global oversupply.
What do you think are the top three issues facing the US steel industry?
Certainly right now you've got the challenge of global overcapacity and government interventions around the world. The challenge with the demand situation because of Covid. The other major issue that we're constantly focused on is competing materials, there's always been a competition with other materials for our markets in automotive and construction. We think we've got a great story to tell because steel is extremely innovative. We've been developing all these new grades of steel to help our customers in the automotive industry make cars that are lower in mass while just as strong and just as safe.
In March, we saw the entire North American auto industry shut down. What was that like for the steel sector?
It's an extraordinary situation. For steel, we want to do whatever we can to help our customers in the automotive sector. We were staying in close touch with them. Obviously, it was an extraordinary challenge for them, and they had to respond in ways that made most sense for their industry. Our role was to be supportive to be there to provide assistance in any way we could.
We did prioritize getting the USMCA (US-Mexico-Canada Agreement) trade agreement implemented because that, I think, will be a boost for our North American supply chains and the steel that goes into automotive manufacturing throughout North America.
What's your outlook for the steel industry in the rest of 2020?
It's a difficult one. Obviously the overall economy has taken a big hit, and I think most of the forecasts are that GDP is contracting, by exactly how much is hard to say. We will be down this year, the question is how much. I think we're seeing some gradual improvement in recent weeks. Our capacity utilization is beginning to creep up … and we're hoping to see that improve, but a lot depends on how quickly the broader economy recovers in the second half of the year.
I would note that yes, capacity utilization, it frankly dropped more quickly during this Covid-19 crisis than it dropped back in 2008/2009. More quickly although we did not fall as far as we did in 2008/2009 where we dropped into even lower levels, in the 40s back then. It's been sharp but hopefully we're starting to see an improvement. How quickly we can get to improvement is going to depend on a number of broader economic factors.
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