Reality is Settling in for Supply Chain Companies

Disciplined execution, real earnings matter, and capital allocation matters.

One observation for supply chain companies is becoming very clear: The anomaly in the business cycle is the period of 2020 through 2022 and that will not be a "new normal". The new normal is really just the old normal: You have to provide value, cost and efficiency rule the day, service is great but not at any cost (See my discussion on Amazon below) and money is not free so disciplined capital allocation is back in vogue. Of course, we should not be surprised at any of this. Did we really think the basic "X's" and "O's" of business were totally being changed? Some thought so in a big way, some were skeptical but found it interesting, and some actually predicted we would be back to the basics. Count me in the middle to the latter of that and I admit there were times where I was even in the FOMO mode of thinking. No more.

So, what is the data that points to the fact that we are back to basics:

1. Disciplined Capital Allocation:

We read in the Wall Street Journal Logistics Report how Venture Capital Money is getting tight for logistics and supply chain start-ups. I think 2020 - 2022 will be seen as the "get it all while you can" time frame and those who raised as much capital as possible during that time will be winners - especially if they sold the company before the end of 2022. Disciplined capital allocation means less money (a lot less money) for companies who are not earning a profit or are a "me-too" company. Also, supply chain practitioners, who are under pressure to lower costs, are no longer going to get caught up in the FOMO sales game (software being bought for fear of missing out and the JDS - Just do something mentality). Bottom line, in this environment where money is actually valuable again, raising money on an idea will no longer be appropriate. 

2. Service is King BUT NOT at Any Cost:

Amazon touted their idea of "we provide the service people want and we will figure out the cost" during the hyper growth phase of the pandemic. This meant if their inventory systems did not place the inventory at the right spot, and you wanted it same or next day, Amazon would incur the cost and get it to you. There was no debate. That was their issue and their job was to provide the service then go back and find out why it happened and how to ensure it does not happen again. They are calling this their new "Regional Distribution Model".

Under the new regime they have decided if the product is not available "in the market" then the customer will have the burden. So, if you paid for "Prime" but the product is not in the market, there is no same or next day delivery. You wait. They are saying (it is fantastic marketing spin) that this provides better service however anyone who uses Amazon Prime a lot realizes the service has degraded dramatically due to this change of philosophy. I remember during the pandemic getting packages that clearly were flown to me from a different market. They did this for the reason I cited above. Now, the customer waits. Supply Chain Dive outlines this:

"Under its previous national distribution model, Amazon would have to ship an ordered product from other parts of the country if a local fulfillment center didn’t have it in stock. This increased the company’s cost to fulfill the order while lengthening delivery times."

The last statement is magic in marketing. 

3. Efficiency is King:

Remember during the pandemic when all the major distribution players were screaming for labor? "Where has everyone gone?". Well, they came back but were not welcomed for long. As we learned recently, Shopify's logistics arm was sold to Flexport (run by Dave Clark who was the leader at Amazon when the previous, customer-centric, service model was developed). Shopify must have realized that running a logistics company is far more complicated and this transaction could be the revenge of expertise. Having a veteran like Dave Clark run a logistics operation makes more sense than doing it as an offshoot of a bunch of tech marketing people. Of course, the obligatory mention of "AI will make us more efficient" is woven throughout the Shopify announcement. 

4. The Stock Market is Rational - in The Long Run:

A pandemic darling was Freightos (CRGO) because it was a source a lot of people used for information and freight services when containers were $20K each. As the saying goes, "If something cannot go on forever, it won't" and container prices have now normalized and the need for all of this information and service has disappeared. The company went public in a SPAC transaction (SPAC transactions are another thing we will look back at 30 years from now and wonder how we all went so mad at the same time) at $10 (as they all are) and now is priced at $2.08. This is after a big spike leading up to their earnings announcement next week. Although, earnings are somewhat of a misnomer as in December 2022 their earnings announcement showed they lost $7.24M dollars. 

The good news for them is they went public. I think there are many venture capital owned supply chain firms which have not revalued themselves yet but when they do they will find they are valued a lot less than the previous round of financing AND they have no path to going public. Some doors may have to shut. 

In summary, we are back to where business belongs: Disciplined execution, real earnings matter, and capital allocation matters.