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AK Steel Holding (NYSE:AKS)

Q3 2011 Earnings Call

October 25, 2011 11:00 am ET

Executives

James L. Wainscott - Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President

Albert E. Ferrara - Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President of Finance

Analysts

Anthony B. Rizzuto - Dahlman Rose & Company, LLC, Research Division

Sam Dubinsky - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division

Michael F. Gambardella - JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division

Kuni M. Chen - CRT Capital Group LLC, Research Division

Luke Folta - Jefferies & Company, Inc., Research Division

David S. MacGregor - Longbow Research LLC

Timna Tanners - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division

Shneur Z. Gershuni - UBS Investment Bank, Research Division

Operator

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to AK Steel's Third Quarter 2011 Earnings Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] As a reminder, this conference call is being recorded. With us today Mr. James L. Wainscott, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of AK Steel; Mr. John F. Kaloski, Executive Vice President and Operating Officer; and Mr. Albert E. Ferrara Jr., Senior Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer. At this time, I will turn the conference call over to Mr. Ferrara. Please go ahead, sir.

Albert E. Ferrara

Thank you, Amy, and good morning, everyone. In a moment, I'll review our third quarter 2011 financial results, and following my remarks, Jim will offer his comments and field your questions.

Our comments today will include forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Included among those forward-looking statements will be any comments concerning our expectations as to future shipments, products mix, prices, costs, operating profit or liquidity.

Please note that our actual results may differ materially from what is contained in the forward-looking statements provided during this call. Information concerning factors that could cause such material differences and results is contained in our earnings release issued earlier today.

Except as required by law, the company disclaims any obligation to update any forward-looking statements to reflect future developments or events. To the extent we refer to material information that includes non-GAAP financial measures, the reconciliation information required by Regulation G is available on the company's website at aksteel.com.

Earlier today, AK Steel reported a net loss for the third quarter of $3.5 million, or a loss of $0.03 per share. During the quarter, we experienced challenging market conditions along with continued high cost for steelmaking raw materials. Additionally, our results include costs related to an incident with the #5 electric arc furnace, or EAF at our Butler Works. As previously reported, the #5 EAF was damaged on July 1 when molten steel breached the furnace shell. Our third quarter costs related to this incident totaled approximately $9.8 million. After taxes, this equates to roughly $6.2 million, or $0.05 per share. Essentially the cost incurred reflect the amount of our insurance deductible associated with the incident.

This is consistent with the guidance we provided during the second quarter 2011 earnings conference call. Excluding the impact of the #5 EAF incidents, AK Steel's results for the third quarter compare favorably to First Call consensus estimates.

Shipments for the third quarter of 2011 totaled 1,368,800 tons, which was lower than our guidance as business conditions during the quarter, proved to be more challenging than anticipated. Our average selling price was $1,158 per ton, a decrease of approximately 2%, compared to the second quarter and slightly lower than we had forecasted. Revenues totaled $1,586,000,000, a decrease of about 12% compared to the prior quarter.

Sales outside the U.S. continue to be an important source of revenue for us and totaled approximately $244 million for the third quarter. During the third quarter, high raw material cost continued to pressure our financial results. However, these high costs were largely in line with our guidance.

Our outlook for determining our 2011 LIFO charge has changed, due principally to our expectation of reduced inventory levels at year end. This is primarily a function of lower than expected shipments and productions. As a result, we benefited from a LIFO credit of $9.5 million in the third quarter of 2011. However, we expect to incur a LIFO charge in the fourth quarter.

I would also note that due to a weakening of the euro, our third quarter results were negatively impacted by foreign exchange loss of approximately $3.7 million. On an operating basis, excluding the impact of the furnace incident at Butler Works, we recorded an adjusted operating profit of $21.2 million, or $15 per ton for the third quarter of 2011.

Turning to the balance sheet. During the third quarter of 2011, capital investments totaled $21.7 million. Working capital was a source of $29.7 million in cash during the quarter. We continue to be focused on managing working capital and anticipate that working capital will be a significantly larger source of cash in the fourth quarter. During the third quarter, we made $32 million in payments related to the Butler Works retiree, VEBA, as part of our previously announced settlement agreement with a group of retirees from our Butler Works. We will make additional payments to the Butler VEBA of $32 million in 2012 and $28 million in 2013.

For the first 9 months of 2011, our payments related to Butler and Middletown VEBAs totaled $97 million. In addition, we made $170 million in contributions to our pension plans. We have now completed all of our required pension and VEBA funding for 2011.

On October 4, AK Steel announced the acquisition of Iron Ore and Metallurgical Coal Interests as part of our strategic initiative to further vertically integrate the company. Jim will review details of these acquisitions at his remarks.

However, I do want you to note we completed the initial capital investments for these acquisitions totaling $124 million early in the fourth quarter. We do not anticipate additional capital expenditures in 2011 related to either of the acquisitions. Also I'd point out that we expect to have borrowings against our revolving credit facility at the end of 2011.

Now let's take a brief look at our results for the first 9 months of 2011. Revenues were nearly $5 billion compared to $4.6 billion for the first 9 months of 2010. Sales outside the U.S. totaled $735 million, or about 15% of our total revenues. Shipments were $4.3 million, about the same level as the first 9 months of 2010, and our average selling price was $1,151 per ton, more than 8% higher for the same period a year ago.

At the bottom line, we reported net income of $38.3 million for the first 9 months of 2011, or $0.35 per diluted share. Our 2011 year-to-date net income was negatively impacted by several items totaling approximately $10 million after-tax, or roughly $0.09 per share. They included costs related to the furnace incident at Butler Works, that I previously mentioned, changes to state tax laws and onetime costs associated with the previously announced shutdown of our Ashland Works coke plant.

Now let me offer some comments about the fourth quarter. Due to the current challenging market environment, as well as the lack of clarity for future market conditions, we will not provide our normal guidance for the fourth quarter at this time. However, we fully expect to provide insight later in the quarter, likely in December, as quarterly business conditions become clear. Finally, given the low interest-rate environment and challenging investment markets, we have the potential to incur a corridor charge in the fourth quarter related to our unique pension and OPEB benefit accounting methodology. Should such a corridor charge occur, let me emphasize that it would be a non-cash charge.

Now for his comments, I'll turn it over to Jim.

James L. Wainscott

Thank you very much, Al. Good morning, everyone. Let me take a few minutes to comment on our third quarter of 2011 results and our outlook before entertaining your questions.

I'm pleased to report that despite the continuing challenges of a sputtering economy, AK Steel posted an operating profit for the third quarter of 2011 and were it not for the onetime costs associated with the repairs to one of our EAFs, we would have posted a net profit for the third quarter as well. Shipments and selling prices, as Al described were below our own expectations, as customers concerned about the direction of the economy, ordered less steel and market pricing declined. But consistent with our expectations, we experienced very high raw material cost in the third quarter and while the IODEX index, which is indicative of the spot market price for iron ore, has recently declined, in fact, declined quite a bit, it is important to recognize that there is a lagging effect of such a price changes.

For example, the price we paid for iron ore in the third quarter of 2011 was set during the 3 months ended May 31, 2011 and the price that we'll pay for the fourth quarter of this year was set during the 3 months ended August 31, 2011. The quantity of raw materials that we've purchased and our steel production volumes were in anticipation of our expected higher shipment levels. Accordingly, as was the case in the second quarter, we consumed cash for inventory purposes in Q3. Looking at the fourth quarter, we expect to generate a significant amount of cash, working capital, as we dialed out our production and inventories to recognize lower levels of demand.

More on the fourth quarter in a moment, but first, let me take a minute or 2, to comment on the fundamentals of our business at AK Steel, namely, safety, quality and productivity, and how we are performing in each of these areas.

At AK Steel, we continue to make the safety of our employees, our company's highest priority. Compared to the latest available steel industry statistics, AK Steel's safety performance, as measured by the frequency of OSHA recordable injuries was, on average, about 6x better than that of our peers, taking care of our employees and sending them home safely to their families, each and every day, will remain our company's highest priority.

On the quality front, for the third quarter, we continued to perform very well in service to our customers. In fact, 5 of our 7 steel plants are in pace for best ever quality performances this year. And our third quarter report card is in from our customers. I'm delighted to report that AK Steel took top honors in the latest Jacobson Surveys for both carbon and specialty steel products. The results of these surveys indicated that both our carbon steel and specialty steel customers ranked AK Steel #1 in product quality and customer service and #1 in overall satisfaction. In addition, our carbon steel customers also ranked us #1 in on-time delivery. We love happy customers.

Our mission is to serve customers better than any other steelmaker and we'll continue to work hard to keep it that way. In terms of productivity, when they were called upon to do so, our units ran pretty well. However, unfortunately, on average we only had sufficient orders to operate at about 80% of our production capacity for the third quarter. That compares to about an 87% operating rate for the second quarter. I'm pleased to report that after a 3-month repair period, the new Butler Works #5 electric arc furnace restarted operations on October 10. This key operating unit for our company, which is replacing 3 older, less efficient EAFs, will ramp up its productivity during the fourth quarter of 2011 and we expect it to hit its stride in the year 2012. Improving our self-sufficiency and lowering our low material energy costs are key focus areas for AK Steel. The #5 EAF fits that description, as do our 2 recent strategic raw material investments.

Following years of searching for the right assets, on October 4, we announced 2 important raw material investments that will go a long way towards addressing our raw materials short position.

Our acquisition of 100% of Solar Fuel Company Inc. which was subsequently renamed AK Coal Resources Inc., and our acquisition of 49.9% of Magnetation LLC set into motion plans to become more self-sufficient and reduce our future coal and iron ore costs.

Let me take a moment or 2 to provide an update to you on each of these deals. Regarding AK Coal, we have already hired an experienced operations manager to coordinate our activities there. His immediate roles are to develop the mine plant and initiate the permitting process. We expect to be mining lowball coal either for our own consumption or for merchant sailor trade by the year 2014. As soon as reasonably possible, we plan to ramp up our production to at least 1 million tons annually and, if market conditions are favorable, we may choose to produce as much as 2 million tons per year.

In the interim, we will receive some royalty payments from existing producers but we do not expect this to represent a material amount of money. The major benefit of this project will be realized when the coal mining operations begin. We expect to mine low-cost, high-quality lowball coal. Upon the completion of the AK Coal production ramp up, we expect to be approximately 50% percent self-sufficient in terms of our metallurgical coal requirements, that is, we expect to be able to produce coal, either for our own consumption, or to sell as a hedge equal to about 50% of our met coal volume requirements.

Unlike AK Coal, Magnetation LLC is already producing iron ore concentrate. The refining process is a proprietary one and the necessary permits are already in place. It's generating solid EBITDA and beginning in 2012, we will receive about ½ of that EBITDA. The Magnetation JV is currently operating a single plant and they're in the process of constructing a second plant that's expected to begin operating in Q2 of 2012. Accordingly, about ½ of the financial benefit associated with selling the product produced from those facilities will inure to AK Steel. Of course, the actual amount of that benefit will depend on the selling price of the product, which is tied to the IODEX and the JVs production cost as well.

We're confident that the Magnetation process is very low cost, highly efficient and very environmentally friendly. Longer-term, however, is when the larger benefit of our investment in Magnetation LLC kicks in. In addition to aggressive growth plans for the iron ore reclamation activities, the venture expects to construct a pellet plant that is intended to be operational in the year 2016.

Upon completion of the pellet plant, AK Steel expects to consume approximately 3.3 million net tons of the pellets produced by Magnetation for use at our blast furnaces. Accordingly, we expect to be slightly more than 50% self-sufficient in terms of our iron ore pellet requirements at that time.

During our conference call on October 5 to discuss our strategic investments, there were a number of questions raised regarding the capital cost of the pellet plant. It may not be widely understood that the process for converting tailings into pellets involves a much lower capital cost than a traditional iron ore mining operation, pelletizing plant and supporting equipment. In short, the Magnetation process does not require as much processing or crushing of the raw material to produce a pallet as does the traditional pellet plant configuration, and as a result, we anticipate that the cost to construct the pelletizing plant with annual production capacity of about 3.3 million net tons will be about $300 million, directly funded by AK Steel and Magnetation Inc.

Ultimately, AK Steel will receive about 50% of its iron ore pellets, our needs, that is, at a cost substantially below market price and will enjoy nearly 50% of the earnings of Magnetation LLC, and all of this, will be accomplished with an affordable investment price tag as well.

One last point, I believe that's worth emphasizing on these investments, whether AK Steel consumes the products directly to lower its production costs, or whether we sell these products on the open market to hedge our raw materials exposure, we are much better off at about 50% self-sufficiency than at 0% or, over the long run, even at 100%. That's because, since 2003, AK Steel's annual raw material costs have increased by more than $2 billion. Of course, we cannot predict whether raw material prices peaked, however, these are long-term strategic investments and, if future raw material prices do rise further, we will be 50% hedged for both coal and iron ore. And on the other hand, if future raw material prices fall, we will enjoy the benefit of that decline with our remaining 50% short position, as we continue to make money on our new strategic investments, thanks to their relatively low cost of production.

Now let me switch gears and comment briefly on what we're observing in our chosen markets. Let me start with the positives. Automotive, Electrical Steel and Specialty Stainless Products. The automotive market continues to show encouraging signs of recovery. September's seasonally adjusted annualized sales rate for light vehicles was 13 million units, and while that's equal to only about 70% of the annual automotive sales peak, it's a big step in the right direction. And in terms of production, the current NAFTA production forecast for 2011 is some $12.9 million light vehicles, compared to 11.9 million units in 2010, and 8.6 million units in 2009. So things are better in automotive. In addition, light vehicle inventories are presently at 52 days supply for domestically produced units, which is slightly below historical inventory levels. I guess most of you know, we serve a automotive market with high-quality carbon steels and 400 series stainless exhaust steels, as well as our Bright Anneal specialty stainless steels for automotive trim.

The electrical steel market has also been a bright spot for our company in 2011, although our third quarter grain-oriented electrical steel shipments declined slightly compared to our second quarter shipments. It's been a year of recovery and growth in terms of electrical steels. Compared to 2010, our 2011 GOES sales volumes, that's GOES for short, have increased by more than 20%. Demand remains especially high for our high-efficiency TRAN-COR H, or initials at TCH grades. In the third quarter, our NAFTA GOES shipments rose by double-digit percentage as the replacement market saw a rise in demand due to a record hot summer and an active hurricane season.

Export GOES shipments decreased by double-digit percentage as supply returned. Instability took hold of the European economy and the U.S. dollar strengthened. So overall, we experienced a slight decline in electrical shipments quarter-over-quarter. Looking ahead, we expect a further decline in our fourth quarter GOES shipments as customers are reporting higher than desired inventory levels at the present time. Despite overall global softening, however, there continues to be solid demand for AK Steel's high-efficiency high-end TCH products.

And ultimately, to experience a significant further growth in electrical steel shipments, we'll need to see improved housing starts. At present, the consensus estimate is for 590,000 units in 2011, compared to 587,000 in 2010, and 554,000 in 2009. Just to put these numbers into proper perspective, during the period 1959 to the year 2007, housing starts never went below 1 million units in any single year. Now we've had 4 consecutive years of less than 1 million. And although 2012 is forecast at some 670,000 units, there's still a long, long way to go on the housing front.

Our Coshocton Specialty Stainless Steel products are also doing well in addition to automotive applications. They're also used in a variety of appliance applications such as front-loading washers and dryers. We expect demand from appliance makers to remain relatively strong in the fourth quarter for specialty stainless products, as a sales of these types of units continue to do well.

Now let me comment on the areas of weakness, specifically commodity carbon and stainless steel products, although AK Steel does not consider itself to be a major player in the commodity carbon and stainless businesses, we do participate in them, to some extent, and that's expected to negatively impact our fourth quarter results. Both carbon steel and stainless steel service center inventories have increased. In fact carbon flat-rolled inventories increased to 5.2 million tons in September of 2011, compared to the low point of the recession, which was 2.7 million tons in August of 2009. Similarly, stainless steel service center inventories were at 401,000 tons in September of 2011, compared to the low point of the recession of 281,000 tons in June of 2009. And whether it's carbon or stainless steel, service center buyers remain very cautious in their buying approach, uncertain as to the bottom in pricing, and they certainly don't want to be holding the bag, that is high-priced inventory, again. So what that means is that the steel service centers are reluctant to place large orders at this time, they're purchasing only to meet their immediate needs.

As Al indicated, we are not providing specific fourth quarter guidance at this time. In fact, we're changing our company practice from one of guidance at the begin of the quarter, to one of guidance later in the quarter. We're doing this because of a couple of things. One, the lack of near-term visibility in our served markets, especially in the spot market for carbon and stainless steel products. And the second reason is the increased volatility associated with the drivers of our results, namely shipments, selling prices and costs. Accordingly, it's our intention to provide more specific guidance in this particular quarter's case, in December, when we expect to have a better sense of how each of these key variables plays out this quarter. Having said that, we realize that it is important for us to provide you with some sense of what we expect for the fourth quarter, at least from a directional standpoint. At this point, we expect to generate an operating loss for the fourth quarter. The reasons for this are twofold, we anticipate lower average spot market selling prices and we expect higher operating costs. As we run our facilities at lower operating rates and as we incur a LIFO charge in 4Q, instead of a LIFO credit as was the case in 3Q.

Looking beyond the fourth quarter of 2011, we are optimistic for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is some recent history. In each of the past 2 years, we witnessed carbon spot market selling prices bottom out in the fourth quarter of the year and rise throughout the first half of the following year. Of course, no one can say whether history will repeat itself, but I think it's fair to say that eventually, market prices must align with the very high level of raw material cost that all steel makers have experienced to one extent or another.

There are a number of other things that cause us to be more optimistic when it comes to 2012, including the continuation of the slow but gradual economic recovery in the United States. Continued improvement in overall automotive demand and specific automotive sales gains by AK Steel, which are displacing some of these carbon spot market sales that I referred to. A full year of benefits derived from our sales contracts containing variable pricing agreements, a bounce off the bottom, in terms of spot market selling prices. Our JV with Magnetation Inc. should add meaningfully to our 2012 performance. We also expect to enjoy the full-year benefit of lower costs and increased productivity and production flexibility from our new #5 EAF. The ramp up of the SunCoke's Middletown heat recovery coke battery, which benefits us from both a coke and an energy standpoint and lastly, just the ongoing benefits with our continuous improvement philosophy as we expect to enjoy better quality, productivity and yield gains in our operations. And in the meantime, we're controlling those things over which we have control and we're taking steps to lower our costs and improve our self-sufficiency for the long run. These are steps in the right direction as we continue to await a real and sustained economic recovery in the U.S.

Manufacturing can play a huge part in that recovery. It can be a significant part of how we get out of the current economic doldrums, but I would offer that, that can only happen if we embrace manufacturing and an environment for business and that includes things such as, less regulation, lower taxes and incentives for investing hiring and innovating, a real energy policy, the enforcement of trade policy including currency manipulation, and an infrastructure improvement plan. Absent these sorts of initiatives, it looks and feels as though 2012 will resemble 2011, with some improvement but with the continuation of this long, slow economic recovery process.

Today in America, nearly twice as many people work in government, that is about 22.5 million, than in all of manufacturing, little more than 11 million. That's almost exactly the opposite of the situation from 50 years ago when, in 1960, there were some 15 million workers in manufacturing and about 8.5 million workers collecting a paycheck from the government.

Today, every state in America except 2, my home state of Indiana and Wisconsin has more government workers on the payroll than people manufacturing industrial goods. Ladies and gentlemen, we need to make things in America. And in order to do that, we need to make manufacturing and pro-manufacturing policies a priority for our country. So in both the private and the public sectors, we need to get busy, we need to work together to make things in America, to make our country great again. It can be done and it must be done. We'll do our part at AK Steel. Thank you all very much. With that, now let's open the phone lines up for your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

.

[Operator Instructions] Our first question is from Brett Levy of Jefferies and Co.

Brett Levy

You guys have worked hard over the years to structure labor agreements that give you some ability and some flexibility. Could you talk, as you go into 2012, about the potential of maybe consolidating work into one plant and now that you're running at 80% across the whole group of your plants, or the possibility of perhaps getting some flexibility on some of your pension and OPEB payments in 2012 or '13, knowing that these guys now probably understand that everyone has to cooperate in tough times. Just talk about some of the things you do you if this period lasts a little bit longer.

James L. Wainscott

Brett, we're very comfortable with labor deals that we've negotiated. We think they're among the best in the steel business and one of the reasons we say that is they do give us tremendous flexibility in operating. We have been and will continue to look at where we should make product and where layoffs may be involved, that sort of thing. I would say that our labor unions, our labor leaders, our employees, understand the challenging economic environment, they're working with us in this regard. We don't have plans to idle anything for an extended period of time but we will adjust as we go. As I said in my prepared remarks, we've gotten a little bit ahead of ourselves the last couple of quarters in terms of producing more material and buying more raw materials in anticipation of higher sales, all of that is getting adjusted this quarter and that obviously would have an effect on our operating rates. We haven't guided per se, but we are as we were, 80% last quarter, we're probably going to be high 60s to low 70s this quarter. And we have the flexibility with our labor agreements to do that. With respect to other things that we might do, we really haven't entertained any thoughts at this point, as far as seeking any relief, in terms of pensions, or healthcare, or things of that sort. I think that's well down the road. But I would tell you this, that we've been through, as a management team and as a company, many downturns, I'm not sure if this is technically, a double-dip or just a continuation of a challenging economic environment, our team is up for it, what we know what to do, and where we're reacting appropriately.

Brett Levy

And what are the 2012 pension OPEB and sort of rough numbers, CapEx numbers, as you see them right now, so that's -- it's 3 numbers of rough numbers for 2012 for you guys?

James L. Wainscott

Brett, on the pension side, we expect our pension contributions next year to be about $170 million, which would frankly be, essentially, what we paid this year. Our healthcare expenditures for our retirees will probably be about $75 million, again pretty much flat year-over-year. We really haven't talked too, too much about capital spending going out to next year. But I think that it would be fair to say -- it probably be fairly consistent with this year's spending.

Operator

Our next question comes from Tony Rizzuto of Dahlman Rose.

Anthony B. Rizzuto - Dahlman Rose & Company, LLC, Research Division

Got a couple. I'm sorry I was just -- somebody stuck their head in my office and you mentioned about the -- for 2012 on the mandatory contribution of the pension and I missed that, I'm sorry.

James L. Wainscott

It's $170 million, Tony.

Anthony B. Rizzuto - Dahlman Rose & Company, LLC, Research Division

Okay, and then also I was wondering, Jim, you went into talking about the operating cost a little bit and you talked about capital cost for the iron concentrate from tailings to pellet, I was wondering could you give us an idea about what that kind of cash operating cost might look like?

Albert E. Ferrara

Tony, I'll just say this and I mentioned this when we did our call, I think it was back on October 5, we've signed a confidentiality agreement with our friends at Magnetation, which really prohibits us from getting into great detail there. I would just say that, we think it's going to be a very, very competitive cost of production and ultimately when it gets into the palletizing process, a very competitively cost to dev pellet as well. Almost under any scenario, I think everyone certainly looks out to the future. We've seen a dip here recently in iron ore pricing, at least of the IODEX going from 171, 180, down to the 140, 150 range. I think most times recently when that's happened, you've seen a sharp spike back up and really what's driven that historically is the price of Chinese hot-rolled and the demand. And the infrastructure spending and building that's going on in China may take a pause here but it's going to continue. So as long as we see that, whether it's 150, or 200, or 100-something, we're in great shape, relative to our cost, we believe on the Magnetation venture.

Anthony B. Rizzuto - Dahlman Rose & Company, LLC, Research Division

Okay, and just a quick follow-up, if I may. It seems like there's a lot of -- there seems to be a fair amount of movement towards more of a transactional price methodology, in terms of iron ore now. And perhaps moving away somewhat from a quarterly pricing mechanism, what are your general thoughts on that at, this point in time?

James L. Wainscott

For decades, we lived with the annual pricing. In the last year or so, it moved to the quarterly approach. We're just kind of getting used to that. Although, that has its inherent mismatches as well as, just I spoke of in my prepared remarks where for the third quarter, it reflected what was March, April and May's average numbers. Look, at the end of the day, I suppose the producers of the product are going to look at what they think best serves them, whether it's a quarterly or monthly or a daily event, we'll see what happens. We're a bit of a tail wagging the dog in this regard. We want to make sure that our revenues exceed our costs. So if there's a better way to match our cost of this case, we're open to discussion on that subject. We can debate all day long, whether it should be a quarterly, or monthly, or annually, but I think the good work that we've done here, in terms of getting into our variable pricing agreements with our customers, raw materials surcharges, including iron ore, is excellent. And the fact that we are on a path to be 50% self-sufficient, in terms of raw materials, that's going to determine most of our direction. And then we'll see what happens to the market based on a variety of factors, and I think right now, because of the situation, there is discussion about a monthly pricing mechanism. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not that takes hold.

Operator

Our next question comes from Shneur Gershuni of UBS.

Shneur Z. Gershuni - UBS Investment Bank, Research Division

My first question is just sort of with respect to the pension discussion. You talked about $170 million for next year and so forth. In the case of the corridor charge of this year, and/or a hypothetical hit to the pension plan, from a cash basis, any impact that you take from a corridor charge of this year or in the fourth quarter, does not hit until 2013? Or can that $170 million change for 2012?

Albert E. Ferrara

No, the 2012 is essentially locked in. The corridor charge is essentially, an accounting entry based upon our unique method of accounting for pension and OPEB. It doesn't affect your cash funding directly.

Shneur Z. Gershuni - UBS Investment Bank, Research Division

Okay. So any hypothetical hits might have an impact on '13 but not on '12?

Albert E. Ferrara

Well, actuarial changes would potentially have an effect on '13 but that would be reflected in your funding, not in the idea of the corridor charge, which would occur in the fourth quarter.

Shneur Z. Gershuni - UBS Investment Bank, Research Division

Perfect. My second question is just with respect to input costs. We clearly been seeing iron ore prices falling, as well as met coal prices falling. You're entering the part of the year when you usually start to negotiate for the following year, I was wondering if you sort of gives some color on your philosophy with respect to met contracting, there was a move to quarterly pricing over the last year, is that something that you're thinking about, especially with the rapid dip fall in met prices that we've seen over the last couple of weeks?

Albert E. Ferrara

I think our timing is good and we're in the midst of those discussions and we probably shouldn't go into a whole lot of detail here on the call except to say that we're hopeful of getting very good deals. I think historically, again, those have been annual deals, there isn't anything that we've heard that would cause us to think that they’re going to be other than that. The annual deals again have served us well. We've also been in a lot of discussions and negotiations with our customers with respect to a coal, a surcharge of sorts, as part of variable pricing agreement or, absent that, higher fixed prices to cover what are likely to be increased coal prices next year. So again, that market, just like the iron ore discussion we just had I think we'll continue to evolve, importantly, we're going to cover those costs if they rise through our agreements with customers, and position ourselves well for the long run to be about 50% self-sufficient.

Operator

Our next question is from Kuni Chen of CRT Capital Group.

Kuni M. Chen - CRT Capital Group LLC, Research Division

I guess, I want to run through the directional thought process here on the fourth quarter. Is it really, I get to the LIFO swing, that's one piece of it, and I guess the other piece is just pricing and utilization, cost up to be about the same, is that fair?

James L. Wainscott

Well, again, we've kind of said what we're going to say about it. I would just offer that our whole thought process here, in terms of the guidance, just to sort of hit that briefly, we have been in this uncertain economic climate for a while. We've attempted the best we can to give guidance with precision, that is increasingly difficult to give, obviously. And in particular, I would say, Kuni, that there is really a lack of what I'll call near-term visibility as it relates to the carbon spot market and the commodity stainless spot market, both in terms of volumes and in terms of pricing. So when you have this combination of uncertain demand coupled with highly volatile pricing and again, we talk about highly volatile pricing, we've seen hot-rolled band, for example, this year, approach of $900 a ton, only to see it lick at the heels of $600 a ton. That's called volatility, and that makes it incredibly difficult if you're running a steel company or trying to provide guidance to do so accurately and with conviction. So we've backed away from that, too, a bit. And so beyond that, is we sort of adjust our shipment expectations and pricing expectations and our inventory expectations and get things back in sync as we need them to be. We're going to adjust our operations and all of that will work its way through we think over next couple of months but we still have significant amount of the steel to place, both in the carbon and stainless steel spot markets and prices are -- they've been moving against us of late.

Kuni M. Chen - CRT Capital Group LLC, Research Division

Fair enough. And just a quick follow on electrical steel. You talked about some sequential weakening now, as far as the fourth quarter goes, and the additional sequential weakening, can you kind of break out your commentary, well, export versus NAFTA?

James L. Wainscott

Yes, let me give you just a little color, Kuni, everyone on electrical steel. Again, it's a -- overall a bright spot year-over-year, we still expect it to be up, in terms of shipment volume, more than 20% higher in 2011, compared to 2010. We were down a little bit, net-net third quarter, compared to second although NAFTA was up, international was down. And really what you have going on, NAFTA-wise was the combination of this very high, if not record hot summer and hurricane season that brought about the need for transformer replacement business, as distinguished from new transformer business, which is still going to be a function of a residential and nonresidential construction markets, both of which are very weak, as you know. And so staying with NAFTA, we're continuing to expect somewhat lower fourth quarter shipments with a hurricane season largely behind us and no inventory builds in sight. Internationally, it's really been a function now for the last couple of quarters of a very unstable European economy, the European debt concerns, a strengthening dollar, weakening euro situation, all of which have contributed to softened demand. And I would also add that supply, that was either off-line or perceived to be off-line, primarily from Japan, after their tsunami and earthquake, actually vice-versa there, has really come back online and most of our grain-oriented electrical steel customers are reporting, on top of that, that they have sufficient inventory. So the good news for us is growth overall but a little bit tougher environment in Q3, and again in Q4. The bright spot, if there is one, and we think it is a bright spot, is you really want to be towards the very high end of that market, and in particular, you want to be a TRAN-COR H, the TCH products that we provide, that continues to do pretty well. So volumes and pricing both under pressure in that market as well.

Operator

Our next question comes from Luke Folta of Jefferies.

Luke Folta - Jefferies & Company, Inc., Research Division

I just have a question first on your LIFO income that you took in the quarter, if I look at the first 9 months of the year, I see about $54 million in LIFO charges, is it fair to assume that if I take the quarterly run rate of that, you're something like an $18 million charge in the fourth quarter?

Albert E. Ferrara

Luke, if, again, 54 represents our expectation at the end of the third quarter, of what our full year LIFO charge would be, which is exactly right, 72, but we would never say, for example, that that's what it's going to be about of the year. Clearly, a lot of factors can affect that between now and the end of the year, just as it did between June 30 and September 30. But you're exactly right, that if you run the analysis out on that basis, the $9 million charge would be an $18 million, or excuse me, $9 million credit would become an $18 million charge in the fourth quarter, but so many factors can affect that, inventory levels, pricing, a whole number of factors. So again, we believe we are going to have a LIFO charge in the fourth quarter but we would not, at this point in time, quantify that any further than what we've already done.

Luke Folta - Jefferies & Company, Inc., Research Division

Okay. I guess I'm just trying to understand why -- if $72 million was your full-year expectation, why not take why would you have incurred $8 million charge per quarter in 3Q and 4Q instead of almost a $10 million income the third quarter and then a much bigger expense in the fourth quarter?

Albert E. Ferrara

That's a very good question. The thing is, as LIFO goes, the charge that's trued up each quarter. If you remember when, in the first quarter, we look at our expectation for the entire year, and take one quarter of that amount in the first quarter and then in the second quarter, we do exactly the same thing, in terms of looking at your expectation for the full year, and you take ½ of your charge and then you credit against that what you've taken in the first quarter. Unfortunately, in this particular instance, what we had accrued through 6 months was actually less than the expectation of ¾ of the charge at the end of the third quarter, and consequently that gave rise to a credit, but at the same time, that gives rise because you're taking a credit, you're chewing up those 3 quarters through 9 months. That necessarily means you going to have a charge in the fourth quarter.

James L. Wainscott

Luke, what you're asking makes absolute logical sense, but it's just not done that way for accounting purposes.

Luke Folta - Jefferies & Company, Inc., Research Division

Okay, I see what you're saying. I understand. The other question I had was the investment you made in iron ore and met coal, I'm just curious to know what the response has been from customers on that and how -- and do you think that this has some impact on the how we think about your long-term market share with them?

James L. Wainscott

I think most of our constituents, including our customers, are delighted to see that were no longer 100% exposed to the spot market. I think they view this as a long-term positive. A number of people had called it, whether it was our Achilles' heel, or shortcoming, or whatever it might have been, it was certainly the elephant in the room for us, for obvious reasons. I mentioned our input cost gone up, $2 billion a year. That's a big nut for us to cover and we obviously sought some relief for our customers. We also remind our customers that we will not have the production from these assets for some years out and even then, it's only going to be perhaps 50% of our needs. So we continue to have a great ongoing communication dialogue on this subject with them, but I'd say overall they embrace it.

Operator

Our next question comes from Michael Gambardella of J.P. Morgan.

Michael F. Gambardella - JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division

So did I hear you right, in terms of the guidance going forward for the upcoming quarters, you're permanently changing that policy to give now interim quarter guidance?

James L. Wainscott

No, that was not the word I used in my prepared remarks or subsequently. I think it's a recognition of the current environment in which we're operating, the amount of uncertainty in this economic climate. So this is the kind of thing that we'll continue to evaluate, as a management team and a board. And when we have a bit more clarity and visibility on the forward look, we'll hopefully revert back to our more traditional guidance, Mike.

Michael F. Gambardella - JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division

And on the grain-oriented electrical steel market, I'm assuming that since you saw the exports, export opportunities outside of NAFTA, decrease this past quarter, the third quarter, that you really didn't see any positive impact on grain-oriented electrical steel demand from the reconstruction efforts in Japan?

James L. Wainscott

Not meaningfully is how I would answer that, Mike. I think that there are some opportunities. There are those closer to the region who would largely capitalize on that just from a transportation standpoint. We participated to some extent but not enough. We continue to look globally on the one great opportunity that remains out there for us. Although we have not had feedback just yet. We hope to get some feedback, I think the new date that we've heard is maybe May of 2012 is on the WTO appeal, on the China trade case. China is a market that we are, for all intents and purposes, zoned out of now. It is a very meaningful market opportunity and we hope to get positive news again within the next 6 months or so, but I'm not going to predict that. But that's where the real opportunity is and we'll continue to look globally. Just a bit of a background, again, we do a little more than half of our business internationally, call it 55%, 45% NAFTA. And we've grown that, internationally, and we continue, our sales force continues to early scour the planet for the best opportunities, what makes good sense.

Operator

Our next question comes from Timna Tanners of Bank of America.

Timna Tanners - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division

I just want to clarify, it was really helpful, Jim, when you told us about the iron ore timing. So if we do see prices staying at these recent low levels below 140 for IODEX, let's say, it were to continue for the next couple of months, can you help us understand when that might show up in your costs?

James L. Wainscott

Timna, great question if you just think about the fact that this next pricing period is including September, October, November, so at the end of November, that will take effect then for the first quarter.

Albert E. Ferrara

January 1.

James L. Wainscott

January 1 of 2012. So we should begin to experience those benefits to the extent it stays down as you said starting with the first quarter of next year.

Timna Tanners - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division

And just to clarify the change in LIFO, it's kind of like it was more from an inventory and destocking, I guess, issue than anticipating this iron ore price move? Is that fair? Or both?

James L. Wainscott

Al can speak to this better than I, but let me try it from a sort of a high level here, and that is, a couple of things really drive that calculation. One is the amount of inventory and the other is the value of that inventory. And I think it's largely driven by the -- to some extent the value, but mostly, the amount. We simply are getting in line with what we see in the markets, both currently and prospectively, and making sure that we have sufficient inventory on hand to meet our production requirements and our customers' needs, but no more. We got a little bit out of whack, as you've seen the last 2 quarters. Our guidance has been maybe a bit optimistic with respect to shipments. We did not hit those levels and while that's disappointing, the larger effect is, it consumes cash and we're, again, getting our inventories in line and that tends to drive the LIFO calculation.

Operator

Our next question comes from Charles Bradford of Bradford Research.

Charles A. Bradford

Could you talk a little bit about your price negotiations with your automobile customers? I know we're not going to get into specifics, but it sounds almost like a couple of your customers are trying to talk down the market for 2012, to maybe influence the pricing. Have you completed the negotiations? And would you call it satisfactory, or how would you describe what happened?

James L. Wainscott

Well, Chuck, we're in the midst of most of those. A lot of our deals are up on the first of the year, many of them expire throughout the balance of the year. Really it's a staggered expiration process. So unlike the way it used to be, where everything was a January 1, it's certainly not that way anymore, it's the first point I would make. Second point I would make is, there's never been a negotiation that we are at, I suppose anybody has gone into, where we haven't wanted higher prices and they've wanted lower. That's the nature of the dance, that's the nature of the beast. It's part of the overall relationship. I think what we've tried to do is educate our customers on what it is that we're doing for them. As I mentioned in my prepared remarks, I think we're doing a pretty good job and the surveys would support this, in terms of quality, delivery and service, they're getting great value. You know, as Warren Buffett says, right price is what you pay, value is what you get. I think they're getting great value. And beyond that, we're also educating them, in terms of our higher costs. Those are key components of the discussion. Certainly, when we get on platforms or when we're lining up with our automotive customers and other contract customers, it's not just about price, although price is certainly an important component, it's about long-term relationship, long-term values. That's who we are, that's what we bring to the party. For some, and hopefully, for most, that really rings a good tune with them, a good note for others. If they're purely price buyers, then perhaps we're not the greatest of fit in the world but this is not spot market business, this is long-term contract business based on relationships. They know us, we know them. We're working through it. I think overall, we expect to make good progress this year, among other things, on the BPMs and again, continuing to expand our margins. What we see, at least, all the forecast that we see is for a better year, not necessarily a robust year, but a continuation on over the next 3 or 4 years where we get back to that 16 million-unit to 17 million-unit level a year. And we want to grow with the people that are growing in this country and there is a number of them. We've got great relationships with them and we'll keep on that path.

Operator

Our next question comes from David MacGregor of Longbow Research.

David S. MacGregor - Longbow Research LLC

Maybe I would ask 3 questions just quickly. Number 1, Jim, could you update us on your negotiations to include raw material pass-through provisions in your contracts, what percentage of your tonnage would have with this for 2012? Number 2, on the working capital, could you give us a sense of what you do hope to achieve by the end of the year and what that would reflect in terms of the balance outstanding in your revolver? And number 3, may be a slightly bigger picture question, but it's pretty clear that there's a lot of furnaces going off-line in Europe, but we haven't really seen any of that going on in North America, to speak of yet, at least. And what do you think it takes to get the North American community to start taking some capacity off-line and start working towards mixed end lead times?

James L. Wainscott

David, on the first one, we will not a do a deal that doesn't incorporate raw material surcharges, period, on the contract deal. We have it and we're not going to, that just simply needs to be incorporated for obvious reasons. Now to the question of what percentage of our overall business, again, today, were at 55%, moving to 60% contract business. And so, when you look at the specialty side of our business, they've all got pass-throughs of one sort or another, and the carbon, were still working on that. So a significant portion, virtually all of the contracts are going to have one form or the other of a BPM associated with it, just has to be that way. I'll bypass the working capital cash and toss it over to Al here in a moment and then maybe comment on liquidity and so forth. And the blast furnaces or electric arc furnaces, again, it's an individual company decision, in our case is we simply look at the order intake rate, we look the inventories we have and we adjust production accordingly. We obviously brought #5 EAF online in anticipation of a better steel market, so it's not going to be running at its full capacity, so we're not going to be enjoying all of the benefits of lower cost and so forth of a that furnace just yet. So we're pacing it, we're pacing our 2 blast furnaces the extent we can, as we know, we have the ability to add materials and increase productivity there. We're not doing that at the present time, but it's very difficult to sort of flip a switch and turn a blast furnace on or off. So they're both running at lower levels of production and we think they'll continue do so for a while. Working capital...

Albert E. Ferrara

Working capital, David, as you know, we finished the quarter with $295 million drawn on our credit facility. Since that time, of course, we made a $124 million acquisition for Magnetation and AK Coal Resources. But we expect to bring our working capital down pretty substantially from -- we had consumed about $200 million through 9 months, we expect to bring that down pretty significantly. And so we would expect while we -- to have that $295 million number drawn down somewhat, or reduced somewhat, between now and year end, but it won't go away completely. But despite that, we expect to have very adequate liquidity., We ended the quarter with over $600 million of liquidity on September 30 and we would expect to be very, probably very near the number at the end of the year as well.

James L. Wainscott

The bottom line is we have a working capital facility. We've utilized it for working capital purposes. We've also used it, at least in the short run to finance longer-term projects. I think it's fair to say that long-term projects typically use some other form of longer-term financing and so again, as I've indicated previously, subject to needs and market conditions and board approval we'd consider accessing capital markets to fund all or a portion of those recent investments, but the bottom line is this, we want to leave with, and that is, we are confident that our liquidity is sufficient to support the needs of the business on an ongoing basis. Period.

Operator

Our final question comes from Sam Dubinsky of Wells Fargo.

Sam Dubinsky - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division

Just a couple of quick ones. First, how should we think about operating expenses going forward, given some of the recent acquisitions in potentially the low revenue rate? And I have a follow-up.

Albert E. Ferrara

In terms of operating expenses...

Sam Dubinsky - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division

Against G&A.

Albert E. Ferrara

As G&A, Sam, we expect that to be readily flat, quarter-over-quarter. I think we've done a good job, through the years, of managing that. I should point out, of course, that our SG&A expenses to include our SunCoke consolidation, which is separated out. But, I guess that we expect that to be flat quarter-over-quarter.

Sam Dubinsky - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division

Okay, could you also comment on the -- I know you mentioned electrical steel softened but I'm not sure if I heard magnitude of pricing between you and that business. How is electrical steel pricing been in recent months? Can you just give us some order of magnitude of the softness?

Albert E. Ferrara

I think it's fair to say that with the increased supply and a little bit lower demand, that the pricing environment is under pressure right now, for reasons that we discussed. Again, it's a better place to be in the higher end of that market. We make a very good product and that's helping us, to some extent, but undoubtedly, there has been pressure really in virtually all of the markets in stainless including electrical steel.

Sam Dubinsky - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Research Division

But is it safe to assume that the magnitude is much less than the carbon business?

James L. Wainscott

Well, one would have to sort of give some parameters to that. But the carbon business has been under enormous stress here, of late. So I think, yes, that's probably a fair statement.

Operator

This concludes our question-and-answer session. I would now ask Mr. Wainscott for his closing comments.

James L. Wainscott

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for taking time to join us on AK Steel's Third Quarter Conference Call. As we sign off, on this, our final call for the year 2011, let me take this opportunity, on behalf of our management team here and our board, to thank each of you for your interest in our company and for your continued support. We look forward to having you join us on our January of 2012 conference call. Thank you very much.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes our conference call for today. Thank you for participating. You may now disconnect.

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