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  First Thoughts

    Dan Gilmore

    Editor

    Supply Chain Digest



 
Nov, 11, 2016

The Trump Supply Chain?

The Three Areas Supply Chain Practice will Likely be Most Effected, as the Midwest Puts Hopes on Renewed Manufacturing

Whether you saw it coming or you didn't, the intersection of supply chain and the government has likely taken a very different turn as of early Wednesday morning.

As I have done several times in the past, I am going to conjecture on what the results of this week's elections portend for supply chain. Also as previously, I am attempting to do this apolitically, aside from largely taking the general viewpoint that a healthy environment for business is a good thing.

Some context: I have lived for all but three of my years in Ohio. The Buckeye state - similar to a number of others - is littered with decent size towns that were once full of factories. Barberton (once the match making capital of the US), steel towns like Massillon, Youngstown and Lorain; and Hamilton, on the banks of the Great Miami River, a city that once produced a lot of paper - these are just a few examples. Now almost all of these towns are completely empty of such factories, or have them only as decaying hulks (hence of course the term "rust belt.")

Gilmore Says....

Is it even possible that Trump can bring the plants and the jobs back to Ohio and the rest of the country? Almost certainly not in droves - the world is different place.

What do you say?

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I grew up near a larger town, Akron, the former "Rubber City." Unbelievable, not much more than 30 years ago, tire companies Goodyear, Firestone, General Tire and BF Goodrich were all still headquartered in Akron. Unimaginable today, due to rampant industry consolidation and other trends. Now, only Goodyear is still standing, with its world headquarters near downtown - though all the tire manufacturing that not all that long ago was still performed just south of the city core - often in multi-level factories - is long gone for places like Oklahoma and southern states.

 

Cleveland, Toledo, Dayton - all have also seen their economies and populations devastated by the loss of manufacturing.

So, this is context that led Ohio to go for Trump by almost 10 points, and why Midwest states Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania (the western two-thirds of which is like a Midwestern state), and Michigan did the same.

More on this later.

It seems to me the Trump election will have the greatest impact on supply chains in three areas:


Trade Policy: Obviously, a major thrust of Trump's message was against trade deals and relationships that he blames for much of this loss US manufacturing.

I have been throughout my life mostly a "free trader." That said, the numbers are a bit eye opening. The chart below shows the annual trade deficit in goods between the US in China and the cumulative deficit since 2000.

 

Source: SCDigest

 

As can be seen, almost every year the previous year's record deficit has been eclipsed (though that is likely to change a bit for 2016), to the tune of about $367 billion last year. Cumulatively, it adds up to nearly $4 trillion over the last 16 years. That is a lot of money by any perspective.

Is this a good situation? Maybe I am missing something, but it is hard to see how. Here is our 2015 trade deficit in goods with other select countries: Germany - $74.8 billion; Japan - $68.9 billion; Mexico - $60.6 billion; Vietnam - $30.9 billion; Hong Kong - $30.3 billion; South Korea - $28.3 billion; and India - $23.3 billion.

Then there are the good, mutually beneficial trade relationships. For example, the US had a small $15.5 billion deficit in goods with Canada, on some $576 billion in total trade between the two countries, way up from total trade of $271 billion when NAFTA was passed in 1995. With the UK, it was a small deficit of $1.8 billion on trade volumes of $114 billion. These are the "win-win" scenarios from generally free trade.

It seems certain, rightly or wrongly, that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement among the US and 11 other countries will not see approval by the Senate - though the votes were said to be there before the election.

Trump has vowed to renegotiate the NAFTA agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico, though as noted above it seems to be working just fine between the US and our northern neighbor. However, there is no question much investment is going south of the border. For instance, in 2015 Kia, Audi, Toyota and Ford announced the construction of new plants in the country with a total investment of US $4 billion - and Ford upped its ante $1.6 billion more this summer. The aerospace and defense sector has also been investing heavily of late in Mexican production.

The US does not have a trade agreement with China, so there is nothing really to negotiate, other than the overall WTO framework. Good luck with that. Renegotiating NAFTA seems very problematic as well.

But trade and revitalizing manufacturing was so central to Trump's campaign and Midwest appeal that it seems certain he will have to take action of some kind. What will that mean? No one really knows. I doubt we will see 40% tariffs on goods from China, but we could see some tariff hikes in certain product areas. I also expect more actions internally and in the WTO accusing China of unfair trade practices, as the steel and aluminum industries are pursuing now.

More practically, I expect there will be intense public shaming now from the White House for companies making offshoring moves - and the negative PR might just be effective for awhile.

I think almost every company needs to do some scenario planning in terms of potentially rising costs from offshored production - and consider Trump may make moves in the famous "first 100 days" of his presidency. Will such actions cause a global economic downturn, or indeed help struggling US manufacturers? Trump will have to thread a fine needle to pull this off successfully, even if he has put his finger on a real issue.

Energy and the Environment: Trump has vowed to put coal miners back to work, and further exploit the US' rising production of oil and natural gas. It is indeed the US boom in oil production in recent years that is largely responsible for the big drop oil in prices, as the supply-demand balanced was fundamentally changed.

But in 2015, Obama signed a UN agreement on CO2 emissions that promised a substantial level of reductions from the US. However, that agreement is non-binding, meaning a new president could largely simply ignore it.

I believe the Trump administration will also try to thread the needle here as well, strongly supporting US energy production - including coal - and scaling action from the EPA in this area substantially - while encouraging alternative energy research and development at the same time.

Regardless, there is about a zero chance of anything like a US cap and trade program for CO2 emissions for the next four years, or other government action that will force manufacturers to reduce CO2 - though many of course will continue such programs on their own. Expect energy prices to stay low.

Business Regulations:
The Obama administration's love of regulating US business will almost certainly be ended, though actually reversing rules that are in place is an extremely challenging exercise. Will the new head of the US DOT keep pursuing the now suspended 34-hour restart rule, or additional changes to the Hours of Service rules generally? Likely not, as just one example.

The makeup of the National Labor Relations Board will be tilted back in business' favor. I would think a Trump administration would pull way back on the current heavy government push to have contract workers and drivers classified as employees. The regulatory state will be modestly tamed for now.

I am out of space, but is it even possible that Trump can bring the plants and the jobs back to Ohio and the rest of the country? Almost certainly not in droves - the world is different place.

But the National Association of Manufacturers has been calling for a reduction in US business taxes for years as a way to make US companies more competitive - and they are likely to get it. And the trends that have been modestly favoring US manufacturing of late - rising Chinese wages, regional manufacturing strategies - are likely to be augmented by an environment that really does support "Made in USA" both politically and commercially.

One thing is clear on a US manufacturing revival - it's now or never.

What do you think will be the biggest impacts on supply chains from a Trump presidency (please keep non-political)? Can he really help revitalize US manufacturing - or is it a lost cause? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.


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