This week, The Wall Street Journal reported (paid subscription) that global contract manufacturer Foxconn is in preliminary talks to build a high-end $5.7 billion LCD display screen factory in Northern China. According to this report, the CMS is in discussion with the government of Zhengzhou regarding potential investment arrangements. According to WSJ unnamed sources, Foxconn and Hon Hai Precision Chairmen Terry Gou visited Zhengzhou in August and met with government officials to discuss an investment proposal. The Zhengzhou region is also the home of an Apple iPhone assembly facility.
This news is significant in that it would represent Foxconn’s largest investment in component manufacturing and would be an additional sign of further diversification within key downstream strategic components of high tech and consumer electronics supply chains. LCD production requires rather expensive capital investments and the business has had its ups and downs in profitability.
In its reporting, the WSJ stated that it remains unclear as to whether Apple or other investors are being approached to invest in the proposed display plant. Apple already sources LCD display from three major suppliers. Apple declined any comment to the WSJ report.
Further reported was that Foxconn has been floating ideas for building a component and handset gain manufacturing facility in Indonesia, but is apparently driving a hard bargain for local authorities.
The Movement Toward Cheaper, Open Computing Compatible Servers Spells Opportunity for ODM and CMS Providers
Here is a Supply Chain Matters follow-up commentary that relates to the previous news on the pending split-up of Hewlett Packard along with our commentaries of several years ago, beginning in 2011/2012 commentaries and supplemented in a 2013 commentary) foretelling of original design manufacturing (ODM) and contract manufacturing systems (CMS) providers competing directly with their larger OEM customers.
A recently published Bloomberg article, Cheap Servers Are Bad News for HP and Dell, indicates that the contract manufacturers such as Quanta Computer that these OEM’s often depended upon are now producing generic, Open Compute Project compatible computer servers for hungry data center customers. These generic servers are reported to be one-third to two-thirds cheaper than the branded versions. According to the article, this has been a boon for server-hungry customers such as Amazon, Google and Facebook, but bad for established, branded hardware OEM’s. Further noted is that mega financial services firms such as Fidelity, have jumped-on the generic server bandwagon to reduce IT infrastructure costs.
What’s keeping branded OEM’s in the competitive game is their ability to provide extensive global customer service as well as global distribution scale. However, the current accelerating trend for matching generic server hardware customized to a specific software application compute resource need will only add to the momentum toward generic commodity servers.
This week brings two visible and poignant reminders of the perils for being an Apple supplier. There are of course, the positives related to the sheer production volumes that doing business with Apple provides, along with being on the leading-edge of product or component innovation. Along with the positives come the perils for dealing with a highly demanding and influential customer.
Today’s printed edition of the Wall Street Journal cites suppliers and other sources as indicating (paid subscription) that because of the current surging demand for Apple’s newly announced iPhone 6 models, the Apple supply chain ecosystem has altered previous plans for ramping-up production volumes associated with new models of iPads, and instead are allocating current production resources to iPhones, specifically the iPhone 6 Plus. Apple’s Sales and Operations process has obviously issued marching orders that indicate all hands on deck supporting iPhone shipment needs. That implies a invariable delay for new iPad market availability plans as critical component supplies such as displays allocated their current efforts strictly to supporting current iPhone output demands.
Foxconn, Apple’s prime contract manufacturer has again placed in the role of doing whatever it takes to keep-up with demand, fulfill customer orders and not let lack of finished goods supply be an inhibitor to Apple’s financial results in this all important holiday shipping quarter. The WSJ reports that Foxconn’s Chairman Terry Gou is personally at the Zhengzhou assembly facility “… to monitor production closely.”
In prior Supply Chain Matters commentaries we have pointed out that Foxconn’s real desire is to continue to diversify its business models with less overall dependence on the ebbs and peaks of Apple. That includes building independent branded products. The contract manufacturer has thus been willing to assume a secondary provider role for other of Apple’s products such as the iPad Mini. But, when the stakes are really high, the Apple operational pattern is to turn to its long-standing CMS provider to pull the proverbial rabbits out of the hat in providing almost virtual capacity to move finished goods to consumers and channel partners.
Thus, one peril for being an Apple supplier is having the capability of high agility in the wake of what others would view as rather difficult obstacles.
The other supplier peril reminder comes from this week’s sudden and unexpected news regarding evolving sapphire glass supplier GT Advanced Technologies and its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, sending its stock plummeting. This was a classic current day example of what various supply chain academics have noted as bad supply chain news directly correlated to negative stock performance. In GT’s case, it was literally wiping out upwards of $1 billion in equity value according to one report.
Since the GT news broke earlier this week, the reports we have been monitoring indicate that after further testing of the new sapphire glass material that GT was producing a its new start-up plant near Mesa Arizona, Apple engineers determined that the material was not appropriate for the new iPhone models, and reportedly, withheld the final seed investment payment involving upwards of $130 million. Today, the WSJ reports that GT Technologies will exit the business of manufacturing sapphire. A U.S. bankruptcy judge allowed GT to keep the details of its relationships with Apple secret, no doubt from the influence of Apple as a major creditor. Apple has apparently declined any further statements to business media regarding its relationship with GT.
We sense that this Supply Chain Matters commentary regarding perils will resonate with our readers residing within either Apple’s or other supply chain dominant customer supply chain business models. We know that there not much any of you can state publically. However, we as a broader community, in just one week, have open visibility and can dwell, albeit briefly, to such perils.
We usually strive to point out important takeaways for readers in our individual postings. In this particular case we rather play the observer role and state that perhaps this is today’s mission for supply chain, namely dealing with whatever is required to make the business model successful, including a can-do relationship with the most influential and important of customers. It is what is expected for today’s industry supply chains.
© 2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog. All rights reserved.
In a sudden and startling announcement, GT Advanced Technologies Inc., a developing supplier for new, more durable sapphire glass applications for Apple’s product lineup, announced today that it had commenced a voluntary filing under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code as a best means to reorganize and protect that company and provide a path to future success. In the announcement, GT indicated that as of September 29, 2014, the company had approximately $85 million in cash, but there is no mention in the release of current outstanding liabilities.
In early August in its announcement for fiscal year second quarter results, the company indicated six month, year-to-date revenues of $80.5 million including $49.7 million attributed to sapphire equipment and materials. Non-GAPP operating expenses were reported as $76.3 million year-to-date and the supplier incurred a $139 million net loss from operations. GT reported ending its second quarter with $333 million of cash, cash equivalents and restricted cash, compared to a $509 million at the end of the company’s first quarter.
A statement from this supplier’s CEO states:
“GT has a strong and fundamentally sound underlying business. Today’s filing does not mean we are going out of business; rather, it provides us with the opportunity to continue to execute our business plan on a stronger footing, maintain operations of our diversified business, and improve our balance sheet.”
The company indicated that it expects to provide additional details with respect to the Chapter 11 filing as soon as they are available.
Readers may recall that in our previous commentaries related to Apple’s ongoing efforts in product innovation, that Apple provided a long-term strategic seed investment in GT, valued in excess of $500 million, to develop a stronger more durable alternative to the use of gorilla glass for displays in Apple’s forthcoming line-up of products. GT invested in a 1.4 million square foot production facility near Mesa Arizona to produce sapphire at high volumes at comparative cost. There was further speculation that GT was being positioned as the prime supplier of sapphire for the iPhone line-up and the now announced Apple wearable watch scheduled to ship early next year. The recent iPhone 6 new product announcements from Apple did not include sapphire glass as a feature, leading to speculation that GT could not initially ramp to Apple’s high volume production requirements for its newest model.
Suppliers with groundbreaking technology can often fall victim to a far larger and very influential customer with demanding requirements. What happened with GT Technologies will obviously unfold in the coming weeks including its current relationships with Apple.
Today, business and general media have been echoing the blockbuster news of the Hewlett Packard announcement indicating that HP desires to split itself into two separate companies. In this posting, we share our initial Supply Chain Matters impressions of this proposed breakup from both a global supply chain and information technology provider perspectives.
According to HP’s announcement, the company’s recently combined personal computer and printer business will split from its corporate hardware and services operations. The former is proposed to be named HP Inc. and will have Dion Weisler, a current executive in that operation, as its new CEO while the latter will be named Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, and have current HP CEO Meg Whitman at the helm. However, most of HP’s current profits have come from the combined PC and printer side.
Both of the split entities would have an equal portion of upwards of $50 billion in revenues, but the various reports we have been reading indicate that the strategy for HP Inc. will be more about generating cash while HP Enterprise will be positioned for growth in enterprise and cloud computing areas. Reports further indicated that HP management has suggested that the current near $20 billion in outstanding debt may be placed on the HP Inc. unit itself, allowing the Enterprise unit more options in further strategic deals.
The stated goal for this split is to provide both businesses with a sharper, more focused response to changing customer requirements. We are not all convinced, at this point. Wall Street interests obviously will have a far different view.The proposed split has been targeted to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2015, subject to regulatory and stockholder approval.
Needless to state, there is no shortage of opinions regarding this significant announcement, especially since Ms. Whitman, three years ago, declared to customers and stockholders that HP will remain a single innovative company. Since that time, HP has already shed upwards of 36,000 people as a result of various subsequent re-structuring programs with the ultimate goal being a range of between 45,000-50,000 job cuts. With today’s proposed split announcement, the number is now pegged at 55,000 total job cuts.
In 2011, HP proposed a spinoff of its PC division, an announcement that ultimately led to the short CEO leadership reign of Leo Apotheker. Our Supply Chain Matters perspective at the time was that such a decision would unwind the global supply chain high volume leverage benefits that HP had garnered in the strategic procurement of hardware components, as well as raise yet another round of uncertainty for HP’s customers and supply chain partners. That view was later reinforced in a Wall Street Journal report published after our commentary.
The same concern remains with today’s announcement, although the combination of PC’s and printers retains some leverage. To calm such fears, we read one report stating that CEO Whitman has indicated that the two companies will have a “supply chain arrangement” that allows them to jointly negotiate strategic purchases. We are not that confident that such an arrangement has been all that successful among other large firms. Further, if one of the entities is burdened with the current total debt load that may not help in negotiating or consummating long-term, multi-year supplier agreements that often require up-front cash. Today, overall supply chain leadership is decentralized among HP’s business units. With this split, that model will have special significance.
In its reporting last week and this weekend, the Wall Street Journal revealed that for most of the year, HP held merger talks with storage systems provider EMC Corp, a deal that would have created an estimated $130 billion in combined revenues. Although those talks were reported as ended, the WSJ speculates that today’s proposed split could pave the way for a combination of HP Enterprise and EMC down the road. If that indeed is the strategy being played out, than the global supply chain leverage benefits from a combined HP/EMC, or another existing IT infrastructure hardware provider can buffer some of the loss of global supply chain volume leverage.
From an overall supply chain,B2B business network and applications perspective, the proposed split affords the HP Enterprise entity the opportunity to more aggressively innovate products in cloud-based systems, big-data analytics and decision-making as well as support for IT business process and cloud outsourcing. That may well depend on what ultimately transpires in further announcements in the coming months. There is the possibility that HP Enterprise could be adsorbed within another enterprise provider’s business strategy.
These past weeks, there has been speculation that HP’s printer business was in final stages of announcing some breakthrough technology directed at 3D printing applications in manufacturing and other uses. If that product comes to market, our speculation is that it will have dependence on HP Enterprise services. How such applications are apportioned under the proposed split is an obvious concern for HP’s current and future customer base.
Finally, in observing other high profile corporate splits, issues of how corporate-wide business shared services, such as procurement, data centers, B2B business network infrastructure and EDI systems, ERP, business and specialized supply chain focused applications, third-party logistics and online customer fulfillment are split out becomes a task of significant proportions. With so many job cuts that have already occurred to-date, and more expected to come, inherent business process knowledge and dedicated internal resources to shepherd the transition workloads are going to be challenging. With speculation of even more strategic changes down the road, the notion of two split companies that can respond faster to changing customer and market needs could be slowed-down by the need for adaptive business systems.
There is obviously more to come regarding the HP business split and we urge readers to stay tuned for further Supply Chain Matters commentaries and updates.
© 2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog. All rights reserved.
Supply Chain Matters has queued-up a series of follow-up postings related to previous supply chain related commentaries we have featured on this blog related to important supply chain and B2B/B2C network fulfillment capabilities.
The following six updates provide updated developments.
We, along with other business and social media outlets called attention to the problematic last minute postponement of the scheduled release and availability of these new models across China. There was widespread speculation as to the cause of and potential length of the delay. Despite this situation, Apple had a rather successful first weekend of shipments. However, arch competitor Samsung countered with a quick maneuver in offering its new Galaxy Note 4 smartphone initially within China before other countries.
Today, various published reports now indicate that China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has indeed granted the iPhone 6 models their network access permit.
The latest from Apple is that pre-orders for the new models will begin on October 10 and the phones will be made available by all three state-run mobile carriers. However, these state-run carriers have reduced the subsidies for high-end smartphones such as the iPhone 6, which implies that the higher-end iPhone will retail for 6088 yuan ($990).
According to a published Bloomberg report, the approval process included scrutiny on potential leaks of personal data, with Apple having to take measures in the new release of iOS 8 to eliminate risks from three background diagnostic tools. Apple reportedly continues to provide specific comment related to specific changes having to be made in the OS to satisfy Chinese regulators.
This latest development places Apple’s channel plans for China back on-track, albeit with a month’s delay in planned product availability. Apple supply chain planners will be adjusting inventory movement plans once again. While all of this is occurring, a robust grey market of product demand has been underway to get the new iPhone models into the hands of eager Chinese consumers who can afford them. That should ease in the coming weeks.