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This week marks the six-month anniversary of the Donald Trump presidency. Four months ago, I posted a blog (http://www.dantranscon.com/index.php/blog/entry/will-donald-trump-be-a-successful-president ) that looked at the president’s strengths and weaknesses. I thought, at the time, that this might help provide some insights into his potential for success or failure in the job. These are my thoughts at this milestone.

Clearly president Trump has made several key decisions during this period. He terminated America’s interest in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), took America out of the Paris Climate Accord, overturned president Obama’s decision to not permit the Keystone XL pipeline into America, changed the balance of America’s alliances in the Middle East, pushed hard for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, initiated a review of America’s participation in NAFTA, instituted a ban on citizens from six primarily Muslim countries and oversaw the appointment of a new Supreme Court Judge, justice Neil Gorsuch.

While he has talked a lot about infrastructure spending, reducing taxes, building a wall between Mexico and the United States and tax reform, there have been few legislative achievements. Other than some positive stock market and employment numbers, most Americans are not seeing many tangible results from this president. Donald Trump’s overall approval rating stands at 39 percent, a historical low for a president in office for six months. On the bright side, his approval rating among Republicans stands at 85 percent. Looking back at my March blog, I now realize that my assessment of Donald Trump was largely correct. However, I now see some character traits more clearly and these traits are very problematic for him.

President Trump did have and still does have a vision of America. He frequently talks about “Make America Great Again” and about restoring lost manufacturing jobs to the United States. One of his biggest problems is that he lacks a coherent plan to make his vision a reality. Withdrawing from the Paris accord will not bring back lost coal mining jobs. Job growth in the energy sector will come from investing in the new sources that are growing rapidly. Withdrawing from TPP will hurt America’s trading relationships with countries in the Asia- Pacific region. His Make America a Loner Strategy is hurting the country’s relationships with many of its allies.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Truckload-logos.jpgThe truckload sector of the freight industry is different from the LTL and small parcel segments in one important respect. Unlike the other two segments, anyone who can buy or finance the purchase of a tractor-trailer unit and drive the rig, can enter the industry. Freed from the requirement to build cross-dock facilities and/or buy sorting machines, the barriers to entry are low and there are thousands of truckload carriers throughout North America. Nevertheless, the industry has had its challenges over the last couple of years.

Revenues Dropped in 2015 and 2016

Here are links to the top 100 carriers in the United States (http://resources.inboundlogistics.com/digital/trucking_top100_chart_0916.pdf ) and Canada (http://www.todaystrucking.com/top100 ). The top 50 truckload carriers in the United States are listed in the March 20, 2017 issue of the Journal of Commerce. Altogether, the combined revenue of the Top 25 Truckload Carriers dropped 1 percent last year, to $26.9 billion, after falling 2.3 percent, to $27.1 billion, in 2015.

Swift Transportation, Schneider National, J.B. Hunt Transportation Services, Landstar System and Crete are the five largest US based carriers; TFI (formerly TransForce International), Mullen Group, TransX, Trimac Group and Bison Transport are Canada’s largest truckload carriers. It should be noted that TFI now derives roughly 50% of its revenues from the United States.

Revenue declined last year at 15 of the companies on The Journal of Commerce’s Top 25 US Truckload Carriers rankings, according to SJ Consulting Group, which prepared the data. That’s an improvement compared to 2015, when revenue fell at 19 companies. As an indicator of the weakness in pricing last year, the Cass Truckload Linehaul Index, a measure of truckload pricing excluding fuel surcharges, turned negative in March 2016 and declined for 11 straight months.

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Today, the Prime Minister of Canada met with the President of the United States (#TrudeaumeetsTrump) for the first time. For President Trump, it was one in a series of meetings and phone calls that he has had with foreign leaders. For many Canadians, the question was where Canada ranks with America’s new president on trade and NAFTA.

The NAFTA agreement that was signed in 1994 between the United States, Canada and Mexico, has helped strengthen the ties between the three countries. There are nine million Americans whose jobs rely on the movement of goods from the United States to Canada. Most Canadians know that America is the number one market for Canadians goods and that Canada is the number one market for exported goods from thirty-five states. About 74% of Canadian goods are exported to the USA; 18.3% of American made goods go to Canada. The dollar value is about same. There is almost $2 billion in Commerce that takes place between the two countries on a daily basis.

In addition to these key issues, this was also an opportunity for the two leaders to set the tone for the years to come. Canadians put a high value on their relationship with the United States. They understand that we are and have been best friends, neighbours and allies. We have worked with Americans and fought beside Americans in a variety of wars.

The headlines in the Canadian media have identified that Canadians had a certain level of “anxiety” as PM Trudeau boarded a flight to Washington. During the election campaign, Donald Trump talked about “tearing up” the “terrible” NAFTA deal. From a transportation industry perspective, “trucks haul two-thirds by value of Canada-U.S. trade; anything that might disrupt that trade – whether it’s about scrapping NAFTA, a border tax, or further layers of border security – is of a real concern to us,” says David Bradley, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance. “Moreover, anything that thickens the border and makes supply chains less reliable and predictable would have a profound impact on the competitiveness of both countries.”

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The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States will likely have a profound effect for years to come. I cannot remember another point in my lifetime where there is the possibility of so much change and disruption to established norms and principles of business. How do we prepare for what could be a roller coaster four or eight years in North America and around the world?

Knowledge is power. The intent of this blog is to propose a set of KPIs that we can all use to measure the impact of the new president and his policies. Mr. Trump has made a number of bold promises in his pre- and post-election speeches. Specifically, he has promised to “Make America Great Again,” to stem the flow of manufacturing jobs overseas and to renegotiate NAFTA. By monitoring these KPIs, they will help us determine how his presidency is impacting our countries, our companies, and our personal wealth. Here are few KPIs to consider.

1. Gross Domestic Product

GDP represents the total dollar value of all goods and services produced over a specific time period (Source: https://www.bea.gov/national/index.htm#gdp ); you can think of it as the size of the economy. The US economy advanced an annualized 3.5 percent in the three months to September of 2016. (Source: http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-states/gdp-growth )

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This will likely be an eventful year in Freight Transportation. As I look ahead to the coming year, there will be two sets of forces at play. The President-Elect of the United States, Donald Trump, has made some bold promises. This blog will look at the potential impacts of his presidency. The next blog will examine some of the other major forces at play.

Infrastructure

Donald Trump has spoken repeatedly about improving America’s highways, bridges, and airports. The Transportation industry has bemoaned the lack of investment in infrastructure for several years. It is likely that at least some elements of whatever plan President Trump’s team puts forth will receive bi-partisan support from the other branches of government. 

It typically takes time to plan significant infrastructure projects so they reach “shovel ready” status. In addition to improving the nation’s infrastructure, these projects also create jobs, albeit over a specific timeline. Watch for some infrastructure projects to be launched in 2017 with the balance moving forward in the coming years. These projects should be a net positive for the transportation industry. However, keep in mind that some of these projects, such as toll roads, may receive some funding from private industry (if permitted by congress) and may result in higher costs for shippers and transport companies.

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Canada Needs to Prepare for Negotiations on NAFTA

Posted by on in NAFTA

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The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), came into effect on January 1, 1994, creating the largest free trade region in the world. It was designed to generate economic growth and help raise the standard of living for the people of all three member countries.

“By any measure the NAFTA has been a success by serving as a basis to grow both trilateral and bilateral North American relationships and the results speak for themselves. This integration helps maximize our capabilities and make our economies more innovative and competitive. In 1993, trilateral trade within the North American region was over US$288 billion. In 2015, our total trilateral merchandise trade amounted to over US$ 1.0 trillion.” (Source: Government of Canada Global Affairs Canada website). This is a more than threefold increase since 1993.

During the recent US election, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump frequently spoke about the need to renegotiate NAFTA. They commonly highlighted the impact that “bad trade deals” as they were framed, had on American industry. As the election campaign unfolded, Hillary Clinton fell into line with her opponents on this issue. While the subject of renegotiating NAFTA has come up before, this time will likely be different. Here’s why.

Donald Trump has already stated that one of his major priorities is to create jobs in America. He campaigned with the slogan “Make America Great Again.” A big part of making America great again is bringing back jobs that were lost to other countries. This message resonated strongly with working class people living in “rust belt” states. In fact, the race for the Presidency was decided in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. These states turned their backs on the Democrats and voted for Donald Trump. To maintain the support of working class Americans in these states, Mr. Trump will have to demonstrate that he is trying to bring back jobs to these states. To better understand the challenges of people living in cities in this area, who have lost their jobs, I encourage everyone to read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (see my blog on the book http://www.dantranscon.com/index.php/blog?view=entry&id=253 ).

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In my last blog, I provided an overview of Canada’s economy and demographics. In this blog, I will outline the importance of trade to Canada, and the United States, and then touch on some of the key variables that facilitate the trading process.

Canada has been a major trading nation for many years. Well before NAFTA was signed in 1994, Canada and the United States were major trading partners. As pointed out in the last blog, Canada possesses many raw materials that are in high demand throughout the world. With such a small population, Canada is not able to consume many of the raw materials that it produces. As a result, 58% of Canada’s exports consist of pulp and paper products, energy supplies (i.e. oil, coal and gas), minerals, food products, fish, seafood and fertilizers. By contrast, 38% of Canada’s exports are manufactured goods, primarily machinery, automotive parts, aerospace and aviation products, equipment, chemicals, plastics and information technology. Ontario and Quebec contain the largest centers for manufactured goods. Western Canada is a key producer of coal, grain, oil, natural gas and potash.

Canada – U.S. Trade

NAFTA has just entered its 23rd year. It was designed to expedite the trading process between Canada, the United States and Mexico. There are $750 billion in goods and services traded annually between Canada and the U.S. Exports represent 30% of Canada’s GDP. The United States is Canada’s largest trading partner; it receives 73% of Canada’s exports and 63% of its imports. Canada receives 23% of U.S. exports and 17% of its imports. Canada is largest export market for 35 of the 50 US states.

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The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2014. Since the enactment of NAFTA in 1994, trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico has increased almost 200 percent to an estimated $930 billion. The cross-border flow of goods between the U.S. and Canada has grown to $400 billion.

A new U.S. Transportation Department report shows three of the five surface transportation modes, truck, rail and pipeline, carried more U.S. trade with North American Free Trade Agreement partners Canada and Mexico by value in 2013 than compared to the year before. Most U.S.- Canada trade in 2013, 83.6%, was carried on the surface modes of truck, rail and pipeline. Trucks carried 54.4%, followed by rail at 16.7%, pipeline at 12.6%, vessel at 5.7% and air at 4.5%.

Michigan led all states in trade with Canada in 2013 with $74.6 billion. Of the top 10 states for U.S.-Canada trade in 2013, Washington had the highest percent change over 2012, a 6.4% increase. The top commodity category transported between the U.S. and Canada in 2013 was mineral fuels, valued at $134.1 billion, with $79.2 billion or 59.1% moved by pipelines. The next highest commodity category transported by a single mode in U.S.- Canada trade was vehicles and vehicle parts (other than railway vehicles and parts) with $66.1 billion in trade moved by trucks. Cross-border trade via truck and rail continues to show positive trade growth for Canada and the United States. The growth continues as freight transportation providers on both sides of the border strengthen their relationships with cross-border shippers.

Transforming words and good intentions into more concrete and long-term action, both the United States and Canada are promoting greater economic growth and jobs through a stronger, more visible commitment to regulatory cooperation. With greater opportunities for growth on the horizon, trucking companies on both sides of the border have bolstered their cross-border service offerings to accommodate trade. While Canada and the United States have been good friends for many years and have the longest unpatrolled border in the world, they are distinctly different countries. The two countries have different geographies, climates, cultures, currencies, populations, laws and transportation systems. A failure to understand the unique features of each country can lead to fines, service problems and unhappy customers.

As an example, Canadian e-Commerce is expected to grow at a double-digit pace over the next few years, and U.S. businesses are increasingly tapping in to that $32 billion annual market. But the not-so-good news is that businesses are bumping into unexpected challenges in transporting those goods from the U.S. to their Canadian consumers. A new research brief, “Canadian e-Commerce Presents New Opportunities for U.S. Businesses,” details those challenges, and also highlights ways in which U.S. businesses are overcoming those obstacles. The research brief details findings of a study conducted by Peerless Research Group in which supply chain managers were queried about issues with U.S./Canada e-Commerce shipping.

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Pierre Berton, the late, famous Canadian author noted in his book, “The Last Spike,” that CP Rail has held a respected place in the country’s history.  He wrote that “no other private company, with the single exception of Hudson’s Bay Company, has had such an influence on the destinies of the nation.” For most of the past 15 years, CP Rail faced stiff competition from CN Rail as Paul Tellier and Hunter Harrison led the company’s move from a bloated government run enterprise to a highly profitable public company.  In fact CN’s operating ratio of 61.3 is not only the best among the major North American railroads, it is one of the best of any company in the transportation industry.

The fact that CP Rail lagged so far behind CN Rail and the other class 1 railways in North America led the activist investor Bill Ackman, of Pershing Square Capital, to launch his “palace revolt” proxy battle that resulted in the replacement of CP’s former President with Hunter Harrison, whom he brought out of retirement to drive the railway’s profit improvement.

As we pass through the last quarter of this year, Canada’s two largest railroads are heading down separate tracks.  With an operating ratio is the low 80’s, Mr. Harrison has embarked on a series of actions to reduce costs through improved asset utilization.  This is another way of saying that CP Rail is planning to move its equipment more quickly and efficiently, to become Canada’s second “precision” railroad.   It is seeking to accomplish this by undertaking a series of initiatives.  These include:

  • Building trains at CP’s intermodal terminal in Vancouver with blocks of cars for long haul destinations. This reduces stops and streamlines connections.
  • Increasing average train lengths to 7,000 to 12,000 feet
  • Speeding up the fueling of trains
  • Improving daily scheduling
  • Investing $1.2 billion in 2012 and $1 billion in 2013 on key infrastructure projects
  • Working with customers at both ends to improve coordination

The net result of these changes is that CP Rail now provides 4 day transit times between Vancouver and Chicago and Toronto.  These changes represent half of the transcontinental trains that CP launches daily across its network.  Mr. Harrison is not expecting an overnight drop in the company’s operating ratio.  He told Bloomberg News that he is targeting about 65 percent in the next four years.

Shippers appear to be taking notice of improved service on both major Canadian railways. 

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