* Posts fourth consecutive loss
* Loss $1.86/shr vs Street view $1.43
* Shares drop more than 5 pct (Adds production data, CEO comment, stock drop)
NEW YORK, Jan 26 (Reuters) - U.S. Steel Corp (X.N) posted a fourth consecutive quarterly loss on Tuesday and said it expects another loss for the current quarter, sending its shares down more than 5 percent .
The fourth-quarter loss was bigger than Wall Street expected and the steelmaker’s stock fell to $52.99 in electronic trading before the New York Stock Exchange opened.
“We expect to report an overall first-quarter 2010 operating loss in line with the fourth-quarter 2009 as gradually improving business conditions are not yet fully reflected in our operating results,” said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Surma.
The fourth-quarter net loss was $267 million, or $1.86 per share, compared with a year-earlier profit of $290 million, or $2.50 per share. Revenue dropped to $3.4 billion from $4.5 billion, the Pittsburgh-based company said.
Analysts on average were expecting a loss of $1.43 and revenue of $3.09 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
In October, U.S. Steel said it was still cautious about demand, especially for flat-rolled steel from U.S. automakers following the expiration of the “Cash for Clunkers” program, and it expected to idle two blast furnaces to lower production.
But Surma noted on Tuesday that fourth-quarter results were “a modest improvement” over the third, as net sales represented an increase of 19 percent over the previous quarter.
The improvement was mainly due to higher average realized prices, increased shipments and higher utilization rates for flat-rolled operations, driven by North American automotive and service center markets.
Also, U.S. Steel’s tubular operations, which manufacture pipes for the oil and gas industry, returned to profitability, he said.
U.S. Steel said that because of increased customer order rates, it was operating all of its available North American blast furnaces at the end of 2009, except the #14 Blast Furnace at Gary Works and the one furnace at the Lake Erie Works. The company also restarted its Keetac iron ore operations.
Raw steel capability utilization rates for the quarter increased to 64 percent from 58 percent in the third quarter, the company said.
Reporting by Steve James, editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Dave Zimmerman