The U.S. industrial economy continues to recover following the COVID-related demand and production shocks of March and April, but the recovery has been uneven. In this report, we look at oil and gas, forest products and the automotive industry to gain a sense of where the strengths and weaknesses of the industrial recovery lay.
The American oil and gas industry is the most challenged of the three segments we examined. Crude oil production is down by roughly 25% from the peak in March and will likely not retake that level for several years. The large inventory of 3,400 drilled but uncompleted wells in the Permian Basin means that the Baker Hughes Rig Count will lag production growth and the best evidence for renewed production will be in Primary Vision’s Frac Spread Count, which we chart.
Forest products have mounted a more robust recovery, and manufacturing wood products were down just 3.3% year-over-year, according to July’s industrial production data. Our view is that rail carloads of forest products are lagging true demand for lumber and building materials due to supply constraints including forest fires and lumber mill work stoppages.
The automotive industry has essentially returned to full production and completed the fastest recovery of any major industrial segment in the U.S. economy. A complex orchestration of thousands of suppliers took place to return production to year-ago levels, and we expect railroad carloads to meet and exceed 2019 levels in the near future.
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