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.
As we enter 2015, all signs point to an enhanced looking glass across pharmaceutical and drug industry supply chains. The most prominent issues fueling industry supply chain scrutiny right now are media-driven headlines focused on price inflation related to the increasing cost of generic drugs. However, other issues related to electronic tracking and tracing of drug items will also come to light.
In the latter part of 2014, business and social media headlines buzzed with stories related to the exploding costs of generic drugs, which were supposed to be the more cost-affordable alternative to branded, proprietary drugs. Governmental driven health initiates such as the Affordable Health Care Act were legislated to control the spiraling cost of drugs and healthcare.
Price inflation among generic drugs was not a new phenomenon in 2014. This author reviewed a BloombergBusinessWeek article published in December 2013 that had already outlined the problem with certain drug prices skyrocketing overnight even then. That article cited one industry observer as indicating that prices for more than a dozen generics had sourced ten-fold in 2013, and included generic drugs for treating breast cancer, heart and other diseases. A likely culprit reported by Bloomberg was a frenzy of merger and acquisition activities that led to three companies controlling 44 percent of global generics revenues. That was in 2013, and the trend continued throughout 2014.
The largest processor of prescriptions in the United States is Express Scripts Holdings. Last week, this provider published an advisory: The Reality Behind Generic Drug Inflation. The advisory indicates that: “… since 2008, the average price of brand drugs has almost doubled while the average price of generic drugs has been cut roughly in half.”
It further states: “Just four medications have accounted for the most significant generic price increases in 2014: digoxin for congestive hear failure, ursodiol for gallstones, hydrocortisone acetate for inflammation and clobetasol propionate for eczema and psoriasis. Digoxin had the largest 2014 price increase- 1127%- because for a while only, two manufacturers were producing this widely used medication.”
While all the above statements attempt to provide clarity, they are not going to appease the hundreds and thousands of patients who are enduring such price steep increases, beyond the capabilities of reimbursement from health plans. Once more, legislators are once again being compelled to get involved through a series of Congressional hearings. Again, all eyes will turn towards the supply and demand dynamics of lack thereof across individual drug supply chains.
Supply Chain Wide Track and Trace
The other important issue involves new supply-chain-wide track and trace capabilities that go into effect within the United States during 2015 as a result of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act. As of January 1, manufacturers, repackagers and wholesale distributors of pharmaceutical drugs must provide lot-level product tracing information, and by July 1, pharmacies themselves, both community and hospital focused, must be able to provide lot-level transactional tracing and history for 6 years. Also on January 1, pharmacies must have established processes and systems for verification and handling of any suspect fraudulent products. These are to include quarantine and investigative procedures of suspected fraudulent drugs with notification to the U.S. FDA and primary trading partner if a suspected fraudulent drug is found. A recent posting on PharmacyToday outlines these requirements and their potential impact for pharmacy operators. It notes that conformance to these new requirements has a strong dependence on electronic information transfer and that smaller, independent pharmacies may find themselves at a disadvantage because of the need to move current paper based transactions to electronic record keeping and portal access.
The largest wholesale distributors of pharmaceuticals will obviously play a very large role in helping to track and disseminate such information. Meanwhile, the National Community Pharmacists Association is calling for various supply chain industry partners to work together in coming up with cohesive electronic information gathering strategies.
For our part, throughout the coming weeks, Supply Chain Matters will provide added focus and commentary related to both the supply and demand dynamics affecting inflated pricing of generic drugs as well as implementation of the new track and trace requirements.
The looking glass up and down the pharmaceutical supply chain is indeed becoming an important headline and motivation for learning in the coming year.
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 international 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.
UPS’s Latest Survey of Healthcare Supply Chains- Some Interesting Conflicts and Needs for Broader Perspectives
This week, UPS announced the results of its seventh annual “Pain in the (Supply) Chain” survey involving pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chains. According to the authors, the survey was conducted from phone interviews with 536 senior supply chain management decision-makers within the healthcare industry. Global coverage for this survey is noted as Asia, Canada, Latin America, the United States and Western Europe.
For the third consecutive year, the survey points to regulatory compliance as the top supply chain pain point, cited by 60 percent of the 2014 respondents, indicating that this trend alone is driving current business and supply chain changes. From our Supply Chain Matters lens, that finding is not a surprise since so many pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chain are indeed regulated, but more importantly, they are now globally extended for both supply and service demand needs.
The next largest concern was noted as product protection challenges, with 46 percent of respondents citing product security, and 40 percent citing product damage and spoilage as top concerns. Again no surprise, given the ongoing challenge of counterfeit drugs and global extensions of transportation and logistics networks.
However, what was surprising, at least for us, was that a mere 26 percent of these supply chain leaders cite contingency planning as a top supply chain concern. Perhaps this is an area that these supply chain leaders feel is being adequately addressed. Yet, 34 percent of those surveyed in Asia and 22 percent of those residing in Latin America indicated their firm’s supply chain was impacted by an unplanned event in the past 3-5 years. Cited reasons that were noted were:
- Events being too unlikely or infrequent
- Back-up infrastructure too expensive to deploy
- Little or no prioritization being given to this area vs. other challenges
For an industry that is required to spend so much on product development, brand value and patient trust, it is surprising to once again note such viewpoints. The industry need only look to the previous supply chain disruptions that occurred at Johnson & Johnson to ascertain how about contingency planning has become.
Deeper in the UPS news release perhaps finds a rather important assumption related to the above concerns in compliance, product protection and contingency planning. Many healthcare supply chains are not viewing production, distribution, logistics and transportation as a core capability and have thus outsourced these activities. According to this latest UPS survey, 62 percent of decision makers cited increased reliance on third-party logistics providers as a strategy into the foreseeable future. (3-5 years) Therefore business partners have become an important enabler in helping to overcome stated supply chain challenges.
In a previous Supply Chain Matters commentary, we called for a broader technology vision among supply chain execution partners, specifically 3PL’s. As more and more industry supply chains opt to outsource logistics, transportation and customer fulfillment to logistics and transportation partners, leveraging the potential benefits of newer technologies in item-level tracking, Internet of Things (IoT) and supply chain control towers become a de-facto capability requirement to overcome business challenges and deliver required business outcomes. Too often today, the outsourced 3PL decision has been driven solely by cost control vs. broader requirements for supply chain resiliency and responsiveness. While UPS and FedEx have embraced advanced technology, other 3PL’s have relied on customers to fund such investments, and there remains the conundrum. For us, these latest UPS survey findings concerning healthcare focused supply chains have special meaning to the new reliance on supply chain execution partners for joint goal enablement. Beyond logistics, globally dispersed contract manufacturers have an important enabling and support role as well.
The report’s executive survey indicates that healthcare supply chain leaders are themselves eyeing technology investments in two specific areas of the supply chain, namely front-end order fulfillment and overall product protection in the form of serialization and item-tracking. Supply Chain Matters advises these leaders to also consider the all-important supporting element for connecting the front and back-end of the extended healthcare supply chain. That would be a cohesive supply chain business network that synchronizes planning, execution and early-warning intelligence to unplanned events.
This week, Gartner unveiled its annual regional listing of what the analyst firm considers to be fifteen of the best supply chains in the European region. Gartner conducts this ranking as a supplement to its Top 25 Global Supply Chain rankings that are traditionally announced in the fall. According to Gartner, the top three European supply chains, Unilever,Inditex and H&M, remain unchanged and continue to lead in supply chain excellence while Seagate Technology made its debut in the number four ranking. Three new company supply chains also made a presence in the Gartner Europe ranking.
The published ranking for Europe Top 15 supply chains were noted as:
- Unilever (ranked 4th in 2014 Top 25 global ranking)
- Inditex (ranked 11th in 2014 Top 25 global ranking)
- H&M (ranked 13th in 2014 Top 25 global ranking)
- Seagate Technology (ranked 20th in 2014 Top 25 ranking)
- Nestle (ranked 25th in 2014 Top 25 ranking)
- Delphi Automotive
- Reckitt Benckiser
Similar to our view of this week’s Gartner’s Asia-Pacific rankings, Supply Chain Matters believes that this ranking reflects how we would have voted if we were part of the external or peer voting panel. Unilever is indeed a great supply chain competing in a very challenging CPG industry group. As we noted in our commentary associated with Gartner’s Top 25 ranking, Unilever has made steady progress over the past three years and deserves special recognition. Inditex has long been an icon when describing a top retail focused supply chain that is extraordinary in sensing and responding to fashion and customer demand. Seagate Technology as well, has bounced back from the near disaster of disruption and supply shortages caused by the 2011 floods in Thailand. L’Oreal has made great strides in integrating supply chain planning and execution across its supply chain business network. Nestle deserves its recognition especially in leading with industry-leading supply chain sustainability initiatives.
Three of the Gartner European Top 15 reside in the automotive industry sector which has been an industry segment not previously noted for consistent supply chain excellence. Both BMW and Volkswagen have been deploying a global based product platform strategy and have weathered the European economic crisis through a focus on international markets.
Also noteworthy is the appearance of two pharmaceutical supply chains, Glaxo and Reckitt in Gartner’s Europe ranking.
We believe that a ranking of the top Europe supply chains has even more significance given the ongoing challenges related to the severe economic conditions that have impacted Europe. These are supply chains that had to demonstrate various aspects of resiliency to insure required business and product outcomes.
Supply Chain Matters again extends its congratulations and recognition to each of the named supply chain organizations for achieving such recognition. There is obviously hard work that goes into achieving such recognition and citation and it should be acknowledged.
Supply Chain Matters has been following recent developments in the area of smart labeling, specifically a series of announcements from Norwegian based printed electronics technology provider Thin Film Electronics ASA. This technology provider’s latest announcement is the most significant to-date, with profound long-term potential benefits for certain industry supply chains.
In an October of 2013 Supply Chain Matters posting, we called reader attention to the announcement that Thinfilm had successfully demonstrated a fully functional, stand-alone, integrated printed electronic temperature tracking Smart Sensor Label. The label was described as being built from printed and organic electronics with low power requirements with potential application to track and monitor temperature and environment for pharmaceutical products or to monitor the shelf-life and food safety of perishable products. In early April of this year, we updated readers on two other strategic partnership announcements involving Thinfilm’s smart label product development plans. One included a partnership with Temptime, for potential cold-chain tracking applications for pharmaceutical products, and another with PakSense Inc., in the development of intelligent sensing specifically designed to monitor perishable goods.
This week, yet another rather noteworthy announcement has been made, namely that Thinfilm has successfully demonstrated an integrated system product that combines printed electronics technology, real-time sensing and near-field communication (NFC) functionality. The significance of this announcement concerns technology that enables high‐performance transistors to support the high frequency RF circuitry required for NFC communications in Thin film’s labels with the potential to support a potentially wider range of sensing needs. A video depicting the proof-of-concept is included in the announcement on Thinfilm’s web site.
Last week, this author had the opportunity to speak with Thinfilm’s Executive Vice President and head of North America practice, Jennifer Ernst. in anticipation of this week’s announcement. Jennifer explained that the addition of NFC opened opportunities for the sensing label to be paired with a mobile device such as a smartphone, where GPS focused or other mobile and RF related functionality can be incorporated into item-level sensing. As an example, the receipt of a truckload shipment of perishable products can be monitored and tracked along its journey. The notion of item-level tracking from farm to fork becomes closer with such capabilities. The fact that an infrastructure of mobile broadband and cellular networks already exists in many geographic regions, potentially removes the infrastructure cost burden that hampered previous efforts of RFID enabled item-level tracking. The smart labels will further support protocols to communicate with hand-held readers. We specifically asked the very obvious question: What about the individual cost of a label? The response we received was that Thinfilm’s goal is to target a cost that is significantly below that of current RF-based temperature monitors. Of course, the industry will have to await the real result, but we did get a sense that Thinfilm is driving toward a compelling cost-benefit proposition.
According to this latest announcement, Thinfilm anticipates delivering commercial samples of smart labels to key partners in 2015.
We continue to bring reader attention to specific smart label enabled developments because they represent, from our view, the dawning of a new era of item-level tracking, one that can harness the potential of the “Internet of Things”, namely a sensing label, with predictive analytics capabilities. Consider the possibilities that near real-time information concerning the environmental or shelf-life condition of the physical product can be integrated with supply planning, inventory management and customer fulfillment needs. Consider the possibilities in anti-counterfeiting, drug and food safety as well as avoidance of waste, spoilage and obsolescence.
This is exciting stuff. It provides evidence as to how convergence of technologies are now leading to the achievement of the goal for integrating physical and digital supply chain information and more predictive decision-making capabilities.
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