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Evidence of a New Business and Supply Chain Headwind: A Stronger U.S. Dollar

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During this period of earnings announcements for the December-ending quarter, a new and significant headwind, the effects of the U.S. dollar, has appeared for industry supply chains with operations anchored in the United States.  That was significantly delivered to Wall Street by yesterday’s earnings announcement from Procter and Gamble, which currently has nearly two-thirds of its revenues coming from outside of the U.S. Procter and Gamble was not alone, even the likes of Apple encountered the same headwinds.

P&G reported a 31 percent drop in profit as the stronger U.S. dollar diluted the effects of a modest 2 percent organic sales growth. Net income dropped nearly a billion dollars from the year earlier quarter. According to business media reporting, foreign exchange pressures reduced net sales by 5 percentage points. Once more, P&G indicated that these currency effects will continue to be a drag within 2015, potentially cutting net earnings by 12 percent or in excess of another billion dollars.

The implications are obvious including a continued selloff of underperforming brands and businesses.  One published financial commentary report by The Wall Street Journal implied the continuance of “ruthless cost cutting” and a continued slim-down of brands. P&G has further undertaken ongoing efforts to source more production among emerging global regions, and those efforts are likely to accelerate in momentum.

The strong headwinds of currency were not just restricted to consumer product goods. Today’s WSJ reports that it is now evident that:

“The currency effects are hitting a wide swath of corporate America- from consumer products giant Procter and Gamble Co. to technology stalwart Microsoft Corp.  to pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc.. Those companies and others have expanded aggressively overseas in search of growth and now are finding that those sales are shrinking in value or not keeping-up with dollar-based costs.”

Further cited was a quote from the CEO of Caterpillar indicating: “The rising dollar will not be good for U.S. manufacturing or the U.S. economy.” The obvious fears for investors and economists alike is that the U.S. dollar’s explosive gains will backfire for U.S. based companies by reducing the price attractiveness of goods offered in foreign countries as well as reducing the value of foreign-based revenues.

The implications to U.S. centered industry supply chains are the needs for yet further shifting of strategies and resources. The existing momentum for U.S. manufacturing may well moderate with these latest developments. Initiatives directed at supporting increased top-line revenue growth now have the added challenges for more flexible, global-wide sourcing of production and distribution needs. Operations, procurement and product management teams that believed that they could get a breather from draconian and distracting cost-cutting directives will once again face the realities of having to cut deeply into domestic focused capabilities and resources.

We often cite the accelerated clock speed of business as a crucial indicator for agility and resiliency for industry supply chain strategy. Here is yet another example where perceptions of a  booming U.S. economy quickly change to the overall business and supply chain implications of the subsequent currency effects.

Bob Ferrari


Apple Supply Chain Supports Spectacular iPhone Fulfillment Results

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Throughout the summer and especially in September of 2014, we featured a number of Supply Chain Matters commentaries reflecting on yet another series of Apple supply chain product Apple Logointroduction ramp-ups, and specifically whether the Apple supply chain ecosystem and its internal supply chain teams could yet again pull rabbits out the hat proverbial hat and deliver on business expectations for the all-important holiday fulfillment quarter.

Specifically in our mid-September commentary we noted:

“Over the coming weeks, as the marketing and sales machine cranks-up consumer motivations to buy, the supply chain will deal with the realities of limited supply, production hiccups and product allocation conflicts among various channels that invariably come up in such situations.”

We further declared:

While some supply chains are challenged with collaborating with sales and marketing on stimulating and shaping product demand, Apple has the current challenge of meeting very high expectations involving an outsourced supply network with many moving parts.  They have pulled miracles in the past, and the stakes get even higher.”

Yesterday after the stock market close, Apple announced financial results for its fiscal first quarter ending in December, and the results were staggering, along with the business headlines.  The Wall Street Journal headline story today was titled: Apple Delivers Quarter for the Ages.

Apple reported net income of $18 billion for the quarter, was described as more than 435 of the companies within the S&P 500 Index each made in total profits. But the supply chain headline was fulfilling all-time record customer demand for 74.5 million new iPhones. This was up 46 percent from the same holiday fulfillment quarter a year ago, reflecting a lot of pent-up upgrade demand for the new iPhone6 models. In its reporting, the WSJ equated such volume output to more than 34,000 phones per hour, around the clock.

Gross margin was reported as 39.9 percent, nearly two percentage points higher than last year’s similar period. Once more, average sale volume for the iPhone increased to $687, nearly $50 higher than a year ago.

Apple also managed to double its iPhone sales volumes within China during the quarter despite delayed availability slipping to mid-October from the scheduled simultaneous September product launch.

Readers who followed our Apple commentaries should recall that the iPhone6 incurred its own set of production ramp-up challenges including a last-minute design change involving its larger screen displays. There was the usual production yield challenges associated with the fingerprint scanner and with the LCD displays themselves. We called attention to a TechCrunch report that cited sources in September indicating that Apple had already contracted air freight capacity anticipating to flood channels with last-minute shipments.

All was not spectacular news regarding Apple’s latest performance. Sales of the iPad were reported to be down 18 percent from the year ago period. The long-anticipated iWatch availability has now slipped to April of this year. However, these do not take away from the extraordinary performance of the Apple supplier ecosystem, and in particular, its contract manufacturers who had to successfully support the four month production and fulfillment ramp amidst the production challenges.

The Apple supply chain did indeed again pull rabbits out the hat. It performed to enable an expected business outcome, despite operational challenges.

Supply Chain Matters Tip of the Hat Award

 

 

We extend our Supply Chain Matters Tip-of-the Hat recognition for such performance.  Let’s hope that the supply chain ecosystem will share in similar financial rewards.

 

Bob Ferrari

 

 


Breaking: Cereal Producer Post Holdings to Acquire MOM Brands

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The merger and acquisition churn involving consumer product goods producers continues, and with that CPG supply chains must continue to adapt to such changes. Today’s announcement from Post Holdings is yet another example of the constantly changing challenges for CPG focused supply chains having to adapt to both rapidly changing end-market as well as internal industry forces.

Today, Post Holdings, a self-termed a consumer packaged goods holding company operating in the center-of-the-store, active nutrition, refrigerated and private label food categories, announced that it had agreed to acquire privately-held MOM Brands Company for a reported $1.15 billion. This deal brings together both the No. 3 and No. 4 players in cereal based on dollar sales value. Together, they are expected to have an 18 percent share of the U.S. cold cereal market measured by revenue. Post currently has an 11 percent share.

Under the terms of this announcement, St. Louis Missouri based Post will pay MOM $1.05 billion in cash and issue MOM stockholders 2.45 million shares of Post stock. The deal is expected to close by the third quarter.

According to the announcement, MOM Brands is noted as a leader in the ready-to-eat (“RTE”) cereal value segment, with over 95 years of experience in providing high quality RTE and hot cereal products, strategically targeting the value segment in branded RTE cereal, private label, and hot wheat and oatmeal. Various business reports indicate this deal will provide Post a presence in the growing bagged cereal and hot cereal businesses, two of MOM Brands’ strongholds. MOM Brands now joins Post’s other brands of Honey Bunches of Oats®, Grape-Nuts Cereal®, PowerBar® Raisin Bran Cereal®, and a larger variety of other brands.

The acquisition announcement was timed with Post’s better-than-expected financial outlook issued for its December-ending quarter.

Supply Chain Matters has highlighted today’s announcement since the history of Post Holdings provides a pertinent example on the continuous changing state of CPG focused supply chains.

The Company’s web site provides an historic capsule upon which we have extracted important milestones:

“Post is over 115-year old with (to borrow a phrase) “a new birth of freedom1.” Post traces its heritage to C. W. Post who introduced Grape-Nuts®, the first natural ready-to-eat cereal marketed to enhance health and vitality, in 1897. Our history serves as a reflection of strategy, marketing, finance and governance during much of the 20th century. C. W. Post invented a cereal and a drink at a time when brands were beginning to resonate with the American consumer. His son-in-law, E. F. Hutton, saw the value of bringing together several brands under one corporate owner and General Foods Corporation was born.”

“General Foods was acquired by Philip Morris in 1985. Subsequently, Philip Morris purchased Kraft and merged it with General Foods…..Kraft sold Post to private-label manufacturer Ralcorp. Post was spun off into a separate, independent company on February 3, 2012.”

Ralcorp itself was acquired by ConAgra Foods in January 2013.

Since its spinoff as an independent company, Post has been an active acquirer of small and larger producers. Acquisitions have included peanut butter producers American Blanching Co. and Golden Bay Foods, eggs and diary producer Michael Foods, snack foods producers PowerBar and Musashi Brands. The Michael Foods acquisition was reported to have exceeded $2.4 billion.

A published report from the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the 95-year-old MOM Brands has grown steadily over the past 15 years, particularly capturing share in the low-price or “value” segment of the cold cereal business. That report indicates that MOM will continue to operate as a separate business under Post.

As is often the case in CPG deals, the Post acquisition comes with the usual expectations of added cost synergies, specifically $50 million in run-rate savings by the third year, including sharing of administrative services, infrastructure, sales and marketing. The Star report points out that MOM Brands employs 251 at its Lakeville corporate office and that some jobs there might be in jeopardy, as they often are in post-buyout cost cuts. We would not be all surprised if cost synergies are further applied to supply chain related input costs, functions and services. Such acquisitions often burden the acquirer with added debt or stock dividend expectations which, in-turn, fuel the need for additional cost savings.

While Post continues with its acquisitions spree, the top two producers in this cereal category, namely General Mills and Kellogg have each declared multi-year cost cutting or capacity consolidation initiatives. Supply Chain Matters has provided a focused commentaries on General Mills, the latest being September of last year. In early January, this producer announced the closure of two of its Pillsbury dough factories, adding to the elimination of another 500 jobs over the more than 1000 job cuts announced last year. In 2013, Kellogg announced a billion dollar Project K cost-savings plan that would extend over four years shedding an estimated 2000 supply chain jobs.

CPG supply chains do indeed have their own unique set of challenges. Producers riding the wave of consumer changing tastes and demands for healthier products must continue to innovate or grow or be consumed themselves by producers needing to fuel market growth expectations.

Bob Ferrari

© 2015, The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog. All rights reserved.

 


UPS Communicates Perceived Disappointing News to Wall Street

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As we have often noted in our commentaries, when businesses need to communicate bad news, it is often done late in the Friday new cycle.  Thus, we often check our news feeds on a Saturday morning for any meaningful supply chain focused news.

Yesterday, UPS pre-announced expected fourth quarter 2014 results which communicated added unforeseen expenses related to its support of the all-important holiday surge shipping quarter. Noted in the release: “While package volume and revenue results were in line with expectations, operating profit was negatively impacted by higher than expected peak-related expenses.”

Of further note was this statement from UPS CEO David Abney:

Clearly, our financial performance during the quarter was disappointing,” said David Abney, UPS chief executive officer.  “UPS invested heavily to ensure we would provide excellent service during peak when deliveries more than double.  Though customers enjoyed high quality service, it came at a cost to UPS.  Going forward, we will reduce operating costs and implement new pricing strategies during peak season.”

In today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, the headline article is aptly titled: UPS Has a Holiday Hangover. It reports that UPS surprised Wall Street in its pre-announcement indicating an unplanned $200 million in additional expenses to handle the holiday rush. According to the report, $100 million of the added expense was attributed to low productivity while the remaining $100 million attributed to higher vehicle rental and staffing costs. While Brown was prepared to support the Thanksgiving holiday to Cyber Monday surge, slower than anticipated volumes in the first two weeks of December led to the overhang in expenses. UPS further warned that its 2015 earnings projection is now likely out of reach.

The initial reaction from Wall Street was a decline in UPS stock of nearly 10 percent.

So much for Wall Street’s view. Let’s instead attempt to put a supply chain operations view to what might have occurred.

As Supply Chain Matters has noted in pre-holiday surge commentaries, UPS and FedEx planned and invested considerable resources to avoid the snafus that occurred during 2013 when UPS was thrown under the bus for not being able to deliver holiday packages during the final days before the Christmas holiday. Beyond resource planning, both carriers actively worked with retailers to influence the pace of promotional activity to avoid a last-minute surge of volume that would exceed network capacity.  Both worked with manufacturers and retailers when significant slowdowns occurred at U.S. west coast ports supporting requirement for alternative routings or flex air freight capacity. As we and other media have reported, that planning paid off, and holiday surge delivery performance occurred pretty much flawlessly.

Now let’s speculate on the internal organizational aspects of “We Love Logistics”. Those that have first-line experience in operations management can attest to management directives or zeal, perhaps to the notions that our network is not going to be cited as the point of failure ever again. It could have been: We will not be the party that gets thrown under the bus and will do what’s necessary to insure that does not happen.  Thus, UPS operations teams may have well taken on that challenge and flawlessly executed what needed to be done, including the hiring of even more temporary workers, added equipment and staging space. The network and its added resources performed at the expense of planned budget.

For consumers, retailers and B2B firms, there is now a dilemma.  UPS will now initiate efforts to restore its Wall Street cred and more importantly, respond to perceptions that E-Commerce or Omni-channel commerce has become a high-cost, low margin trap for transportation and logistics providers. As noted in the UPS statements, businesses can anticipate higher peak ground pricing in 2015.  That’s in addition to the new dimensional pricing that was implemented this year.

Remember this date, since it may foretell the start of a new dynamic for parcel shipment and delivery.  We anticipate that major online retailers will initiate a different form of planning for the 2015 holiday surge, and that will be how to balance continuing consumer preferences for free shipping with the new realities of higher parcel shipping and logistics costs. We should not be surprised if new or different business models and strategies begin to emerge in the coming months.

Bob Ferrari

© 2015, The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog. All rights reserved.


Yet Another Concerning Commentary of Supply Chain Bullying

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In our Supply Chain Matters commentaries focused on the challenges that are currently impacting consumer goods industry supply chains, we have called attention to the damaging effects that certain investor activism efforts have inflicted through mandates to either dramatically reduce costs, shed underperforming brands or consolidate CPG companies.

To clarify, an objective investor voice demanding excellence is and should be expected. Insuring shareholder return is always an important business outcome objective for supply chain initiatives and transformational activities. However, when that voice comes in the context of demands for short-term results regardless of consequences that is far different challenge. Years of transformational efforts can literally be destroyed by the effects of wholesale cost cutting mandates.

In our Twitter stream, we came across a re-tweet link from Huffington Post blogger David Weaver, referencing United Kingdom’s Daily Mail.com posting: The supply chain bullies: The giant household names that stand accused of hurting small suppliers. The commentary describes how consumer goods giant Heinz has doubled the time it takes to settle and pay supplier invoices imposing upwards of a 97 day wait for payment. Similarly, AB InBev is reported to have routinely taken up to four months to pay its suppliers.  These payment terms are written into supplier contracts and according to the commentary, most suppliers have little influence for pushing-back. It is a literal pay to stay practice. The commentary cites one source as indicating that a staggering £46 billion was overdue to suppliers in 2014.

While larger sized suppliers may have the financial means to borrow additional funds or adsorb such impacts, it is far more challenging for smaller suppliers who obviously lack such leverage. Once more, because of such practices, the EU community issued a prompt payment directive in 2011 requiring supplier payments within 60 days. As the commentary’s title implies: “It is a total abuse by certain large companies of their supply chain.”

We commend the messages of the Daily Mail commentary and would add that it further serves as a de-valuing of supplier relationships and needs for co-innovation.  During the severe global recession that began in 2008-2009, there were continual reports of large companies tending toward such practices to preserve cash, causing some suppliers to financially succumb. It is literally throwing your problem “over the wall” to make your supplier your banker.  Today, while the Eurozone sector continues to struggle to bounce back to growth from the same great global recession, news of such continuing practices is disheartening.

Disappointingly, it continues to be a practice that spans other industry supply chains, ones that have far higher margins.

As a community of supply chain analysts, we often echo the superior rankings of certain supply chains because of their extraordinary financial ratios or the productive benefits of advanced technology applied to procurement and other supply chain focused business processes. However, neither superior financial metrics nor advanced technology application be predicated on passing the burden of cost down the subsequent tiers of the supply chain in order to secure even more short-term financial benefits.  After all, that’s the far more-easier approach. Ignoring any longer-term implications, collect your performance bonus and moving on to the next short-term challenge or promotional opportunity seems to be a continuing norm, and that remains tragic.

We want to hear from our readers.  What’s your view on why such practices continue?  Is it out of the control of supply chain senior leadership or a manifestation of today’s leadership?

Bob Ferrari


Target Pulls the Plug on Canadian Retail Operations- An Expensive Learning

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We strive to bring learning for our Supply Chain Matters readers that supply chains, and flawless execution of customer fulfillment do matter in business strategy.

Last week, the retail industry took special notice of the news that Target, after less than two years of making its presence in Canada, made a painful decision to close all 133 of its retail outlets in Canada. According to business media reports, Target is now expected to report a pre-tax write-down of $5.4 billion in its fiscal fourth quarter and release over 17,000 retail workers as a result of its decision, a rather expensive lesson on the importance of supply chain strategy and execution. Target’s Canadian operations reportedly incurred upwards of $2 billion in losses.

To be balanced, not all of Targets challenges related to Canada rested solely to supply chain strategy and execution, but Canadian consumers witnessed the most visible aspects, namely large stores that consistently lacked inventory and products that were not competitively priced.

A New York Times published article (paid subscription or metered complimentary view) observed that while Target stores in the United States were long popular over the border destinations for Canadian consumers, it struggled to translate that formula directly within Canadian stores. Differences in suppliers and what was described as a poorly executed distribution network made goods in Canadian stores far more expensive than U.S. outlets.  Consistently empty shelves caused added consumer impressions “giving the appearance of the end of a going-out-of-business sale.” Consumers then avoided Target stores because of limited selection and an unproductive shopping experience. Further noted by the Times was that Target failed to distinguish its brand from other existing Canadian retailers such as The Loblaw Companies, Canadian Tire and others. Also noted is that Target was not the only large or even smaller specialty retailer to stumble in Canada because of in-depth experience in merchandising and distribution in international markets.

Fortune and CFO.com published articles noted that Target’s strategy was to take over existing retail stores operated by discount chain Zellers, which were located in predominately economically distressed Canadian neighborhoods.  That turned out to be a conflict with Target’s upscale sheik retail branding in the U.S.

That theme was brought forward in an article published by Canadian Broadcasting, CBC, Target Canada’s Failed Launch Offers Lessons for Retailers.  By our lens, it provides insightful perspectives on the unique retail challenges within Canada and that Target is one of many other retailers who have struggled. According to CBC, price matters: “The major sticking point is price.” It points out that if retailers are not providing a compelling experience and flawless execution, than price becomes the default decision criteria. Further noted is that many U.S. retailers turned their sights toward Canada after the severe economic recession of 2008-2009, since Canada was mostly spared from the economic effects. Target opened 124 of the former Zeller stores in less than a year: “a pace far too fast to execute the experience properly.”

In the end, Target’s Chairman and CEO Brain Cornell had to make and communicate the tough decision that enough was enough.  It was time to pull the plug on the Canadian effort.

In contrast, U.S. based retailers such as Costco, Wal-Mart and Zara continue to exhibit successful retail execution strategies within Canada.

We amplify this Target experience because of the important learning it provides to retail and B2C focused supply chains with international presence.  Know your market, understand its unique nuances and strive to have the voice of supply chain strategy and customer execution at the decision table. That may not always be easy, when marketing and merchandising teams have broad influence on senior management decision-making, but history provides constant learning that supply chain does matter. It is not just a cost center for conducting business.

Bob Ferrari

 


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