When Will Metalsmiths Be Money-Makers Again?

Michael J. Fox, we need another sequel to Back to the Future.

This time, forget about fixing up your parents or bringing back an almanac -- we need to know what the future holds in store for industrial production in the U.S.A. General Motors and Chrysler have gone the way of the company that made your DeLorean (bankrupt), and legendary steelmakers like United States Steel (NYSE: X  ) and Nucor (NYSE: NUE  ) have sliced more than half of their production since just last year.

Great Scott! When will it end?

AK Steel (NYSE: AKS  ) , another true-blue American metalsmith, posted its third consecutive loss, after reporting that second-quarter revenue plummeted 65% from $2.24 billion to just $794 million. Shipments are down a troubling 57%. The company is doing all the right things: carefully controlling costs, maintaining more than $1 billion in available liquidity, standing by shareholders by refusing to dilute, and standing by employees with twice the required contribution to their pension fund.

What the company needs in order to bounce back is beyond its control: nothing less than the rebirth of an active manufacturing base, within an economy that came to rely upon the service sector for more than 75% of GDP. When all else fails, you go back to your bread and butter, and for the U.S., that means manufacturing.

Offering a dose of that good ole' American optimism, AK Steel suggests that we may see the beginnings of a recovery in the automotive sector during the second half, with a potential 40% increase in automotive shipments for the company over the first half of the year. I sure hope AK's right, but the data I see makes it hard to ignore a decidedly more cautious outlook from Dan DiMicco, CEO of AK Steel's competitor Nucor.

No one seems immune to this massive industrial malaise. Allegheny Technologies (NYSE: ATI  ) , maker of specialty metal products for users like the aerospace industry, yesterday swung to a loss, as revenue was promptly chopped in half. The company's shares dropped 18% after the disappointing result, though investors are growing eerily accustomed to such hefty losses. Automakers, homebuilders, railroads, refiners, and even coal miners have been brutally ravaged by this crisis, which was thrust into their laps by blatant malfeasance in the financial sector.

Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) , meanwhile, just reported record profits, and this Fool wants to know whether you see something wrong with this picture. In my opinion, we need to revitalize the crucial manufacturing sector through investments in infrastructure. Anything less, I suggest, is patently un-American.

Further Foolishness:

723 CAPS members have picked three-star selection AK Steel to outperform the S&P 500. If you have an opinion on the company's outlook going forward, please come share your views with the many thousands of investors who make CAPS their home for online financial discussion and analysis. CAPS is free and fun!

Fool contributor Christopher Barker applauds the unbreakable spirit of the scores of industrial workers directly impacted by this economic crisis. He can be found blogging actively and acting Foolishly within the CAPS community under the username TMFSinchiruna. He tweets. He owns no shares in the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool has a stainless disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2009, at 1:39 PM, ddimicco wrote:

    HERE, HERE, Mr. Barker!!!!!!!!! Keep spreading the word!!!!!!!!!!

    "Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS), meanwhile, just reported record profits, and this Fool wants to know whether you see something wrong with this picture. In my opinion, we need to revitalize the crucial manufacturing sector through investments in infrastructure. Anything less, I suggest, is patently un-American"

  • Report this Comment On July 23, 2009, at 10:36 PM, rofgile wrote:

    GS is too powerful, I think. They got their huge loan, they got the government to pay them through AIG, now they get their profit and their bonuses.

    Somehow congress is simultaneously failing to pass any sweeping financial regulation (like forcing financial companies to put some of their money on the line for each derivative item the sell - prevent the creation of snake oil derivative weapons of mass destruction). Other regulation such as reducing the leverage of these firms is also needed.

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