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Steelmakers struggle to be profitable


NEW YORK -- Even as it tries to fend off foreign competitors the U.S. steel industry is attempting to reclaim old markets and expand into new ones.

"Steel has successfully reclaimed numerous customers and applications from other materials, and has gained respect for its recyclability," said David H. Hoag, chairman and chief executive of the LTV Corp., the nation's third-largest steelmaker.

At a news conference held at the annual meeting of the American Iron and Steel Institute, Mr. Hoag and the chief executives of four other major steel companies painted a picture of an industry struggling back to profitability but hampered by competitionand a lack of capital and threatened by new government taxes.

One way to improve the fortunes of the industry is to push back the use of plastics in automobiles, Mr. Hoag said.

"More and more, automobile parts that were designed in plastic or destined to become plastic, have returned to steel," he said. He then rattled off a dozen instances in which steel has displaced plastic in cars ranging from Corvettes to General Motors' minivans.

The industry is also trying to promote the use of steel in residential construction.

The steel industry's biggest success story this year has been the imposing of tentative duties on steel imports from 19 countries by the U.S. Commerce Department.

A final determination is expected by July 27.

"Based on the compelling evidence, the proceedings, and related developments to date, we expect that our position on the trade cases will prevail," said Curtis H. Barnette, chairman and chief executive of the nation's No. 2 steelmaker, Bethlehem Steel Corp.

The odd man out on the panel was Frederick H. Telmer, chairman and chief executive of Stelco Inc., Canada's largest steelmaker, which has been slapped with the new U.S. duties on imported steel.

"The trading disputes that have erupted between our two countries are taking us down a path of tearing apart the fabric of the world's largest bilateral trading relationship," he said.

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