Editor's Log: Best Guesses & Fingers Crossed

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | January 2013, Vol. 68, No. 1

The November elections are over and the nation has survived. But the question remains: when will the much ballyhooed economic recovery begin in earnest? It looks like 2013 is going to be another interesting and challenging year in which the underground infrastructure market must endeavor to persevere. And we will.

When it comes to oil and gas pipeline construction, we’ve gotten spoiled. We want another boom year, every year. But don’t expect that to happen in 2013 or probably 2014 for that matter. Barring the unexpected, pipeline construction will most likely remain flat in the short-term.

But let’s put that in perspective: if you are in the energy pipeline market, compare your overall bottom line to 10 years ago. The energy business was struggling to emerge from yet another of the typical up/down cycles. Since 2003, I’ll wager most companies have experienced a great 10-year run. Flat at a high level is still far superior to depressed at a low level of business.

And quite frankly, after the rush-to-profit mode we’ve all been in for the past several years, a year or two of treading water is needed to take a deep breath, tighten our belts just a bit, make sure companies are not out of control and position ourselves for a potential mad dash to complete a heavy workload in the near future.

Of course, for 2013, there’s always Keystone XL. The last major piece of that elusive, mega-billion dollar pipeline project always gets people excited about its prospect of finally getting approved. Unfortunately, Keystone’s fate is forever directly connected to political posturing and pay-offs.

For the past two years, the added boost of stimulus dollars has kept the telecom world very busy. But as the stimulus largely plays out, just how sustainable is that market? I believe the answer is that telecom will remain healthy, albeit at a somewhat more moderate pace for 2013. Modern telecommunications (i.e. mobile broadband and fast internet) are now considered an essential utility for our daily lives. That growing “need for speed” will keep fiber-to-the-premises momentum strong for several years.