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.