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Data: Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City; Chart: Axios Visuals

Oil prices can't seem to reach escape velocity, spelling more pain for producers as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to weigh on demand.

Why it matters: The chart above provides a glimpse at why prices remain too low to pull the U.S. sector — which is seeing rising bankruptcies — out of jeopardy.

  • It's from the Kansas City Fed's latest quarterly survey of producers in its district, which includes Wyoming, Oklahoma and Colorado.
  • It shows how the surveyed companies, on average, see prices staying below what they need for profitable new activity for a long time.
  • “District drilling and business activity rose slightly in Q3 from historic lows earlier this year, but revenues, employment, and capital expenditures continued to decline,” said Chad Wilkerson, an economist with the bank.

Driving the news: Prices have given up their modest gains last week and fell on Friday too.

As of this morning, WTI is trading slightly under $40-per-barrel, the range where it has basically been stuck since June, while the global benchmark Brent crude is off slightly to $42.22.

The big picture: Recent days have seen new supplies heading into the market, creating fresh downward pressure even as the pandemic rages, analysts say.

It's due to some Gulf of Mexico production coming back after Hurricane Delta, an industry strike ending in Norway, and production resuming in a key Libyan field.

The bottom line: CFRA equity analyst, quoted in the Financial Times, notes prices have only moved from "awful to mediocre,” which leaves many U.S. shale companies "simply skirting break-even."

Go deeper

Jan 14, 2021 - Health

Drug companies keep raising prices

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

More than 100 pharmaceutical companies raised prices on over 600 drugs at the beginning of the new year, according to a new report from the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs.

The big picture: Millions of people have lost their health insurance because of the pandemic, and uninsured patients must often pay the full sticker price for prescription drugs.

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.

Bush labels Clyburn the “savior” for Democrats

House Majority Whip James Clyburn takes a selfie Wednesday with former President George W. Bush. Photo: Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images

Former President George W. Bush credited Rep. James Clyburn with being the "savior" of the Democratic Party, telling the South Carolinian at Wednesday's inauguration his endorsement allowed Joe Biden to win the party's presidential nomination.

Why it matters: The nation's last two-term Republican president also said Clyburn's nod allowed for the transfer of power, because he felt only Biden had the ability to unseat President Trump.