Sniff, sniff? Smell that? A pungent solvent odor, most often experienced in hospitals and other institutions where cheap, powerful sanitizing products are a must?
That’s ammonia, NH3 for the chemically minded, an incredibly versatile chemical found in most chemical fertilizers and dozens of cleaning products that can also power hydrogen fuel cells for emissions-free energy production. It’s the primary product of CF Industries Holdings Inc., the Deerfield, Illinois, company that landed first on this year’s IndustryWeek 50 Best U.S. Manufacturers list.
Contenders for the IW 50 Best U.S. Manufacturers come from our IW U.S. 500 list. While the 500 ranks companies solely by revenue, the IW 50 Best list looks at several years of data, ranking companies by revenue growth, earnings growth, profit margins, return on assets, return on equity and inventory turns. The mathematical model weights recent performance the highest, identifying elite manufacturing performers.
In CF Industries’ case, the agricultural and industrial chemicals provider didn’t dominate any of the six metrics but placed highly in all of them. While its primary business is selling ammonia to agricultural clients, the company is putting a lot of effort and capital into CO2 emissions reduction efforts. Last October, CF Industries announced it was partnering with ExxonMobil (No. 1 on the IW U.S. 500 list, No. 46 on the IW 50 Best) on carbon capture technologies in Louisiana.
Many Tech Companies Eliminated
Because the IW 50 Best Manufacturers come from the IW U.S. 500 list of the country’s largest manufacturers, changes we made to how we compile that larger list flowed into these rankings. IW editors eliminated 71 companies from the IW U.S. 500 this year after determining that they did not make their own products, instead relying on their supply chains for manufacturing. Companies that made the 2022 IW 50 Best Manufacturers list but weren’t in the running this year were:
- Apple Inc. (No. 1 on the 2022 IW 50 Best Manufacturers list)
- Microsoft Corp. (No. 2)
- Nvidia Corp. (No. 4)
- Broadcom Inc. (No. 18)
- Cirrus Logic Inc. (No. 25)
- NetApp Inc. (No. 26)
- Cisco Systems Inc. (No. 34)
In January, the company announced a deal to supply clean-burning ammonia to JERA, Japan’s largest energy generator, to lower emissions in coal-fired power plants in that country.
In announcing CF Industries’ 2022 financial performance, President and CEO Tony Will said, “We expect to drive strong cash generation in the years ahead, enabling us to make disciplined investments in our clean energy initiatives to meet what we believe will be significant global demand for low-carbon ammonia.”
Building Products Boom
Looking past CF Industries to the next four companies in the Top 5, there’s a clear pattern—building construction was a healthy business in 2022. No. 2 performer Encore Wire Corp. (up from No. 15 in 2022) makes the electrical wires used to carry data and electricity in buildings. No. 3 company Atkore (up from No. 14 in 2022) makes conduit systems to carry Encore’s electrical wires.
No. 4 Builders FirstSource Inc. (up from No. 40 in 2022) makes just about everything else used to make a home—doors, siding, millwork, roofing, decking, lumber and windows. Finally, rounding out the Top 5, Nucor Corp. makes steel and many of the steel products used in construction. Like CF Industries, Nucor didn’t make the 2022 list.
That strength for building materials cascaded throughout the 50 Best Manufacturers list with strong performances from timber companies Louisiana Pacific Corp. and Boise Cascade Co. Joining Nucor from the steel world were Steel Dynamics Inc., Commercial Metals Co. and Worthington Industries Inc.
U.S. Census Bureau data show that housing starts fell 3% last year from record levels in 2021, but numbers are still well above historic norms, especially for apartments and other multi-unit dwellings.
Energy Companies Return
In 2022, only two companies tangentially involved in the oil industry made the IW 50 Best Manufacturers list, despite record petroleum industry profits that year—Western Midstream Partners LP, a company eliminated in 2023 because it doesn’t manufacture products (more on that in the sidebar), and engine oil company Valvoline Inc.
Valvoline was No. 24, up from 43 in 2022, but it won’t be returning next year. Valvoline in March sold its engine oil manufacturing operations to Saudi Arabian oil giant Aramco. Valvoline continues to operate, but the remaining company is strictly a provider of oil change services.
Miserable financial performances in 2020 kept the rest of the energy world from the best performers list last year. Our model considers recent performance most heavily, so the further away 2020 gets, the better energy producers look. In 2023, six producers made the list, thanks almost entirely to massively surging sales and profits. That group of six earned a collective $29.2 billion in 2022, up 740% from 2021 (and up tremendously from the massive losses posted in 2020).
However, those massive 2020 losses (ExxonMobil Corp. lost $22.4 billion that year, for example) still lowered energy companies’ net income growth scores in the 2023 IW rankings. If performance holds steady this year, as predicted, expect to see petroleum producers at the top of the list in 2024. Even with tremendous results last year and in 2021, Exxon barely made this year’s list at No. 46, and Phillips 66 Co. landed No. 49.
Tesla Debuts, Small Companies Perform Well
Another company benefiting from the past drifting away was electric vehicles powerhouse Tesla Inc. At No. 16, Tesla ranked highly in revenue growth and earnings growth. The company posted its first annual profits in 2020 and grew that number significantly in 2021 and 2022, earning $12.6 billion last year, a 127.5% jump.
Tesla was the only automaker to land on the list, but recreational vehicle producers Winnebago Industries Inc. (No. 16) and Thor Industries Inc. (No. 31) both placed. Commercial truck giant Paccar Inc. squeaked in at No. 50, thanks mainly to great inventory turns, and commercial trucking supplier Allison Transmission Holdings Inc. landed at No. 34.
Always interesting to track, several small companies showed tremendous performances. In 2022, only three companies from the final 100 names on the IW U.S. 500 list made the IW 50 Best Manufacturers list, and one of those was Cirrus Logic Inc., eliminated this year for not really being a manufacturer. In 2023, five companies from that bottom quintile were top financial performers.
- Kulicke and Soffa Industries Inc. (No. 6 on the IW 50 Best, No. 419 on the IW U.S. 500). You want to make semiconductors? You’ll likely need precision machinery from Kulicke and Soffa to dispense coatings onto silicon substrates.
- Malibu Boats Inc. (No. 11/No. 460). Heading out to the lake for some fishing, waterskiing, wakeboarding or just cruising? Malibu has eight leisure boating brands and also makes engines, boat trailers and marine wiring harnesses.
- Valvoline Inc. (No. 24/No. 457).
- Janus International Group Inc. (No. 25/No. 488). Have you ever watched Storage Wars? You know that excitement when the auctioneer rolls up the corrugated metal doors on the storage units? Many of those were made by Janus, a major supplier of doors and other components for storage equipment facilities.
- Cavco Industries Inc. (No. 36/No. 406). Did I mention that home construction was a good industry in 2022? Cavco manufactures homes at plants in Texas, North Carolina and Arizona.
50 Best Rank
IW U.S. 500 Rank
2022 Revenue in millions
2022 Net Income in millions
|1||116||CF Industries Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:CF)||$11,186||71.1%||$3,346||264.9%|
|2||296||Encore Wire Corporation (NasdaqGS:WIRE)||$3,018||16.4%||$718||32.6%|
|3||243||Atkore Inc. (NYSE:ATKR)||$3,914||33.7%||$913||55.4%|
|4||56||Builders FirstSource, Inc. (NYSE:BLDR)||$22,726||14.2%||$2,749||59.3%|
|5||34||Nucor Corporation (NYSE:NUE)||$41,513||13.8%||$7,607||11.4%|
|6||419||Kulicke and Soffa Industries, Inc. (NasdaqGS:KLIC)||$1,504||-0.9%||$434||18.1%|
|7||244||Louisiana-Pacific Corporation (NYSE:LPX)||$3,854||-1.6%||$1,086||-21.1%|
|8||57||Steel Dynamics, Inc. (NasdaqGS:STLD)||$22,261||20.9%||$3,863||20.2%|
|9||236||Mueller Industries, Inc. (NYSE:MLI)||$3,983||5.7%||$658||40.5%|
|10||31||QUALCOMM Incorporated (NasdaqGS:QCOM)||$44,200||31.7%||$12,936||43.0%|
|11||460||Malibu Boats, Inc. (NasdaqGM:MBUU)||$1,215||31.1%||$158||43.5%|
|12||138||Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated (NasdaqGS:VRTX)||$8,931||17.9%||$3,322||41.8%|
|13||146||Boise Cascade Company (NYSE:BCC)||$8,387||5.8%||$858||20.4%|
|14||213||Winnebago Industries, Inc. (NYSE:WGO)||$4,958||36.6%||$391||38.6%|
|15||139||Commercial Metals Company (NYSE:CMC)||$8,914||32.4%||$1,217||194.8%|
|16||13||Tesla, Inc. (NasdaqGS:TSLA)||$81,462||51.4%||$12,556||127.5%|
|17||92||Westlake Corporation (NYSE:WLK)||$15,794||34.1%||$2,247||11.5%|
|18||28||PBF Energy Inc. (NYSE:PBF)||$46,830||71.8%||$2,877||1,145.4%|
|19||4||Valero Energy Corporation (NYSE:VLO)||$171,189||58.0%||$11,528||1,139.6%|
|20||350||Skyline Champion Corporation (NYSE:SKY)||$2,207||55.3%||$248||192.1%|
|21||10||Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE)||$100,330||23.4%||$31,372||42.7%|
|22||43||NRG Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NRG)||$31,543||16.9%||$1,221||-44.2%|
|23||117||CVR Energy, Inc. (NYSE:CVI)||$10,896||50.5%||$463||1,752.0%|
|24||457||Valvoline Inc. (NYSE:VVV)||$1,236||19.2%||$424||1.0%|
|25||488||Janus International Group, Inc. (NYSE:JBI)||$1,020||35.9%||$108||145.9%|
|26||36||HF Sinclair Corporation (NYSE:DINO)||$38,205||107.8%||$2,923||423.5%|
|27||228||Fortinet, Inc. (NasdaqGS:FTNT)||$4,417||32.2%||$857||41.3%|
|28||134||KLA Corporation (NasdaqGS:KLAC)||$9,212||33.1%||$3,322||59.8%|
|29||160||Albemarle Corporation (NYSE:ALB)||$7,320||120.0%||$2,690||2,074.5%|
|30||84||Lam Research Corporation (NasdaqGS:LRCX)||$17,227||17.8%||$4,605||17.8%|
|31||87||THOR Industries, Inc. (NYSE:THO)||$16,313||32.4%||$1,138||72.4%|
|32||128||UFP Industries, Inc. (NasdaqGS:UFPI)||$9,627||11.5%||$693||29.3%|
|33||174||Carlisle Companies Incorporated (NYSE:CSL)||$6,592||37.0%||$924||119.1%|
|34||312||Allison Transmission Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:ALSN)||$2,769||15.3%||$531||20.1%|
|35||206||Worthington Industries, Inc. (NYSE:WOR)||$5,242||65.3%||$379||-47.6%|
|36||406||Cavco Industries, Inc. (NasdaqGS:CVCO)||$1,627||46.8%||$198||158.1%|
|37||388||Eagle Materials Inc. (NYSE:EXP)||$1,862||14.7%||$374||10.3%|
|38||148||ON Semiconductor Corporation (NasdaqGS:ON)||$8,326||23.5%||$1,902||88.4%|
|39||216||Patrick Industries, Inc. (NasdaqGS:PATK)||$4,882||19.7%||$328||45.9%|
|40||123||Weyerhaeuser Company (NYSE:WY)||$10,184||-0.2%||$1,880||-27.9%|
|41||285||QuidelOrtho Corporation (NasdaqGS:QDEL)||$3,266||92.3%||$549||-22.1%|
|42||381||AdvanSix Inc. (NYSE:ASIX)||$1,946||15.5%||$172||23.0%|
|43||54||Applied Materials, Inc. (NasdaqGS:AMAT)||$25,785||11.8%||$6,525||10.8%|
|44||249||Lincoln Electric Holdings, Inc. (NasdaqGS:LECO)||$3,761||16.3%||$472||70.8%|
|45||89||Illinois Tool Works Inc. (NYSE:ITW)||$15,932||10.2%||$3,034||12.6%|
|46||1||Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM)||$402,217||44.2%||$55,740||141.9%|
|47||69||Texas Instruments Incorporated (NasdaqGS:TXN)||$20,028||9.2%||$8,749||12.6%|
|48||121||The Hershey Company (NYSE:HSY)||$10,419||16.1%||$1,645||11.3%|
|49||5||Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX)||$169,990||52.5%||$11,024||737.1%|
|50||47||PACCAR Inc (NasdaqGS:PCAR)||$28,820||22.5%||$3,012||61.4%|
Data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.