To the nation's oil companies, reports of the recession's demise are premature.
"The problems that have beset other segments of the market are coming home to roost with the oil companies, particularly the battle for market share for gasoline," said Bernard J. Picchi, senior oil analyst with Salomon Bros. in New York.
Demand for petroleum products "is down about 2.5% right now, year over year . . . and there's no sign at this time of a pickup," said Frederick P. Leuffer Jr., an industry analyst with C. J. Lawrence, Morgan Grenfell Inc. in New York.
The weak demand--worsened by new state and federal gasoline taxes that went into effect last year--has led to lower prices and stiff competition, especially on the West Coast, analysts said. Compounding the problems are new federal clean air regulations that will require refiners to invest heavily in new equipment.
There's hope, however, that the industry will recover before the end of the year. Oil company earnings could end up 6% higher in 1991, Leuffer predicted, aided by crude oil prices that are much more stable than a year ago. But the evidence remains slim.
"It's more an item of faith," said Tony Finizza, chief economist at Atlantic Richfield Co.
Chemical manufacturers have few such doubts.
"The recession in our view is over; the recovery began in May," said Richard A. Stuckey, chief economist for DuPont Co.
Plastics and man-made fibers go into carpet and other house furnishings. DuPont saw February's rise in textile mill production as the beginning of recession's end, and DuPont's sales have been rising since March.
Allen J. Lenz, chief economist at the Chemical Manufacturers Assn., said first-quarter chemical industry earnings were down only a modest 3.7% from 1990. "That's not very much considering we're in a recession," he said. "And that leaves profits at a pretty good level."
Lenz also notes that chemical exports are up sharply, at 16.7% over last year.