The confluence of a diminishing customer base, more efficient materials, environmental regulation, the strong dollar and global competition has made for an interesting "witch's brew" in the North American refractory industry.
First and foremost, the dismal performance of the U. S. steel industry starting in late 1997 reinforced the trend toward lower refractory production volume. Since the iron and steel industry consumes roughly half of all refractories made in North America, the downward trends in profitability and capacity utilization necessarily must be reflected in key supplier industries. Although iron and steel production is expected to turn around, a market environment as robust as the 1990s is unlikely to return. When coupled with a weaker outlook for other refractory consuming industries, demand for refractories will remain fairly weak.