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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


How the Ebola Outbreak Can Impact Industry and Global Supply Chains

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the ongoing outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) and humanitarian organizations such as Doctors Without Borders continue to work on the front lines to control the outbreak.  The consequences of further Ebola humanitarian reliefinternational spread of the virus coupled with fears of wider-scale contagion have created a call for coordinated global public health actions to stop and reverse the outbreak.

Other concerns should be the short or longer impacts to industry and global supply chains if the current outbreak cannot be adequately controlled. Within close proximity to the current effected region within West Africa is the country of Cote d’Ivoire, which is a major supply source for cocoa.  Countries within the West Africa coastal and interior regions also produce supplies of palm oil, iron ore and other commodity materials.

Beyond local sourcing are the broader implications to global transportation and logistics networks if the current outbreak spreads to other countries and spawns additional travel and cross-border restrictions. In short, industry supply chain and sales and operations planning teams definitely need to monitor the current Ebola outbreak and have some form of scenario and backup plans identified.

This posting serves to alert our Supply Chain Matters readers who subscribe to Accenture Academy training and webinars that this author will overview the current Ebola crisis from an industry and infrastructure supply chain perspective and provide expert perspective on the areas to watch along with considerations for building risk contingency scenarios. Accenture Academy is launching a new series termed Trend Talks, which are more compact and two-way interactive webinars that address and provide  collective discussion on important, rapidly developing trends among industry supply chains.

I am pleased and looking forward to delivering this inaugural Trend Talk webinar addressing this timely and rather concerning global topic.  The session is scheduled for Wednesday, December 10th at 10am Eastern time with participation available only to Accenture Academy members. Readers can utilize this Accenture Academy web link for login and registration.

Bob Ferrari

 


More Railcar Shortages Loom for U.S. Midwest- Grain Shipments Remain Impacted

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Earlier this year, severe winter conditions across North America coupled with the continued boom of bulk crude oil shipments originating from the Bakken region of North Dakota led to significant railcar bottlenecks and shortages. Business media was quick to note that the rail car shortage problems stemmed from pileups at the BNSF Railway, which was one of other railroads heavily burdened by surging demand for crude oil transport.  The problem was a classic capacity-constrained network, as winter conditions incurred a heavy toll on equipment and schedules. At the time, the railcar shortage was expected in extend further into the year.  BNSF Locomotive unsized

A recent published report from Bloomberg now indicates that grain farmers in the upper Mid-West region of the United States now have a compounding problem.  The article quotes grain industry sources indicating that 10 to 15 percent of last year’s grain crop still remains stored in silos because of the continued lack of availability of specialized bulk rail cars to transport the crop. Some contracts for delivery of grain from as far back as March remain unfulfilled.

This problem is expected to now compound further because the harvest of spring wheat is about to take place.  Grain elevators still contain storage of the prior harvest while an expected large harvest needs to be stored and transported to designated domestic and export markets. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. spring wheat crop will rise to a four year high in the coming weeks, the bulk of which coming from the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana. The president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association is quoted as indicating: “With the railroad situation the way it is, it almost looks hopeless as far as catching up.”

From our Supply Chain Matters lens, the key railroad carriers, BNSF and Canadian Pacific seem to be taking the classic rear-view mirror approach to the problem.  A BNSF group vice president reports to Bloomberg that the backlog is expected to be down to less than 2000 past-due railcars by the middle of September.  Bloomberg further reports that as of the end of July, the Canadian Pacific reported in excess of 22,000 requests for grain cars in North Dakota being an average 11.7 weeks late while over 7000 rail cars are over 12 weeks late in Minnesota.

We strongly suspect that farmers, agricultural distributors and consumer goods companies are more interested in the plans that railroads will put in-place to avoid both the past and expected upcoming railcar backlogs.   What are these railroads specifically addressing to get in front of the problem? More than likely the resolution involves broader considerations including crude-oil shipments taking up the bulk of line capacities, along with compounding specialty rail car supply and demand imbalances.

Last winter, rail bottlenecks and delays rippled not only to grain and crude oil, but to other bulk commodities such as sugar and fertilizer, and to the shipment of automobiles and steel. According to this latest Bloomberg report, rail lines anticipate the backlog of grain rail shipments could extend through the October-November period, which overlaps with other agricultural harvests. Some railroads may not recover at all, which will present additional shipping challenges for farmers, grain operators, and indeed other industry supply chains in the coming months. As noted in previous commentaries, ongoing capacity and driver shortages among U.S. trucking companies cannot be relied on to solve this problem, nor is it economical for shippers and producers.

U.S. rail transportation infrastructure remains challenged and there needs to be concerted efforts to address both short and longer-term resolution of consistent reliability in rail shipping networks.

To our readers directly involved in the impacts of these bottlenecks, let us know what you are observing. How can  and should railroads resolve these bottlenecks?

Bob Ferrari


Manufacturers Remain Upbeat Concerning U.S. Factory Investment

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According to the 2014 Semiannual Economic Forecast issued by the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), purchasing and supply management executives across the United States remain optimistic concerning the growth of revenues for their firms.

Manufacturers are planning for an average 5.3 percent growth in revenues in 2014, up from a forecasted 4.4 percent at the end of last year. Estimates for spending on new equipment and plants presents an even more optimistic perspective, with an indication of a 10.3 percent increase, compared to a forecasted 8 percent increase in December 2014. However, the outlook for employment was little changed from December’s forecast, projecting a 1.5 percent increase.

From our lens, these forecasts are a stronger indicator that new equipment spending is being directed squarely at automation and increased productivity.  They further reflect the prediction that the current momentum in U.S. manufacturing continues across many industry supply chains.

Last week, Germany’s BASF SE announced what was described as the single largest plant investment in its history. The global chemicals provider indicates that it was considering investing upwards of $1.4 billion to build a gas complex somewhere in the Gulf Coast region of the United States that will convert low-cost natural shale gas into propylene. According to report published by the Wall Street Journal, BASF estimates that it could save upwards of $500 million per year in energy costs if this new chemical plant is located in the U.S..


Breaking News: CSX Train Carrying Crude Oil Derails and Bursts Into Flames

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Another incident involving hazardous crude oil rail transport has occurred in the United States. 

Various media outlets are reporting that a CSX train carrying crude oil from Chicago to Virginia derailed and burst into flames in downtown Lynchburg Virginia, spilling crude into the nearby James River. Hundreds of people have been forced to evacuate within a half-mile radius of this accident.

A published Reuters report quotes CSX as indicating that 15 cars derailed at 2:30pm local time and that three railcars were still on-fire as of 4pm. This derailment occurred a short distance from nearby office buildings and according to Reuters, is sure to bring added calls for stricter regulations and oversight for shipping crude by rail. Reuters notes that CSX has been positioning itself to deliver more crude to East Coast refineries and terminals and that in January, its CEO told analysts the company planned to boost crude-by-rail shipments by 50 percent this year.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is dispatching Federal Railroad Administration inspectors to the scene of this latest accident. This would be the second train derailment involving crude oil so far this year amid continuing calls for improved tanker car safety standards. Last week, Canada’s Transport Ministry introduced stricter measures concerning railroad tank cars. The agency ordered railcar owners to phase out DOT-111 model cars in the next 30 days. At this point it is unclear what the type and age of tanker cars involved in this latest incident in Virginia actually were.

Ironically, last week the National Transportation Safety Board NTSB) conducted a two day Rail Safety Forum focused on the transportation of crude oil and ethanol standards. Outgoing NTSB chairperson Deborah Herseman attended this session and has been making rounds of various U.S. media talk shows and news programs.  Her primary message to viewing audiences was her concern for rail safety and that industry and government interests need to do more in this area. We had the opportunity to view Ms. Herseman’s interview on the CBS This Morning program and her conclusions were quite powerful, leaving an impression that other accidents will occur without stepped-up action. These messages will resonate even more after today’s incident and the effects may impact the availability of rail tanker cars across the U.S. in the months to come.


U.S. Western Region Rail Shipment Disruptions Impacting Industry Supply Chains

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Today’s Wall Street Journal reports (paid subscription or free metered view) what many commodity shippers spanning the Western portions of the United States are already experiencing first-hand, an BNSF Locomotive unsizederosion of rail service levels that are beginning to noticeably impact industry and services supply chains.  The surge in bulk tank car shipments from the Bakken region of North Dakota, coupled with the severe winter conditions that have been experienced throughout this region have led to what is reported to be a major snarl in rail traffic that is now cascading itself among various supply chains.  Once more, this situation may extend itself much further into 2014, which is not good news for supply chains that are often anchored in just-in-time inbound materials flows.

The WSJ indicates that many of the problems stem from pileups at the BNSF Railway, which has been one of other railroads heavily burdened by surging demand for crude oil transport.  The problem is a classic capacity-constrained network, as winter conditions have taken a toll on equipment and schedules.

The ripple effect extends to other bulk agricultural and commodity shipment needs across the U.S. Midwest and Great Plains regions, where rail car deliveries are reported to be running two to three weeks late.  Specific notations are made for shipments of bulk sugar to various consumer product goods companies, coal shipment to various utilities and grain and other agricultural products to ports or food processors. Impacted suppliers cited in the article are American Crystal Sugar Co., a supplier to General Mills, Kraft Foods and Kellogg, potato producer Black Gold Farms and fertilizer producer Mosiac Co. Hershey, on behalf of the Sweetener Users Association, has written a letter to regulators stressing the need for an urgent fix. These backlogs have the potential to cost shippers hundreds of millions of dollars in unplanned costs and the longer this service situation continues, the more upstream companies within supply chains will be impacted. The BNSF itself is reported to be scrambling to secure additional locomotives and train crews while shippers are turning to the more expensive option of shipping by truck.

As our U.S. reader community is already aware, there has been an ongoing capacity shortage among U.S. trucking companies, thus the problem cascades itself even more as trucking resources continue to fill-in for rail. Commodity procurement and logistics teams will obviously continue to deal with this situation, including coming up with alternative scenarios to keep material flows moving to upstream customer expectations. Those residing upstream should be exercising their own scenario planning options to manage through this ongoing operational disruption.

 


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