This reporter was attending The Steel Service Center Institute's Economic Forecast Conference in Chicago on the fateful date of Sept. 11, with an inkling to write a report on their predictions for 2002. The events of that day rendered all assumptions moot. For what it's worth, however, it's easy to summarize a consensus of all the speakers appearing, including representatives from Turner Construction Co., the FMI construction consulting firm, and a member of the Chicago Federal Reserve. Basically, they predicted an unspectacular but steady recovery of the economy next year, though as one fellow blurted out, "I can't give a good reason why." A cynic might call it wishful thinking.

Beyond that, here are a variety of snippets that might portend tidings good or bad.

  • Publicly-held manufacturer Northwest Pipe Co. (Nasdaq:NWPX) reported third quarter sales of $70.9 million, down from $76 million a year ago. Profits increased to $3.4 million compared with $2.6 million last year. Through nine months sales were virtually unchanged with net income rising to $8.8 million from $8.1 million in 2000. Performance and 2002 prospects look better for the company's Water Transmission Group than its Tubular Products Group.

  • Economic activity in the manufacturing sector declined for the 14th consecutive month in September, and order backlogs dropped for the 17th month in a row, reported the National Association of Purchasing Management. Inventory reduction offers a slight sign of encouragement. NAPM also reported a slight 4.7% gain in non-manufacturing business activity during September, despite the skewing of business activity by the terrorist attacks.

  • The Preston Pipe & Tube Report predicts a 13% drop in oil country tubular shipments next year, with first-half weakness starting to turn for the better in May. Standard pipe shipments look to be unchanged with a minor shift from welded to seamless. They see the stainless market increasing about 5%.

  • The Canadian Institute for Plumbing & Heating said PVF sales through August were up 3% for the year. CIPH believes turmoil in the Middle East will increase demand for Canadian oil and gas. IPSCO reported that thanks to recently placed orders for large diameter gas transmission pipe, its Regina spiral mills were fully booked through the end of the first quarter of 2002.

  • Looking far ahead, the Freedonia Group sees world demand for industrial valves increasing an average of 6% annually through 2005. Information about the study "World Valves" can be obtained at