Friday, September 17, 2010

FedEx Earnings - Implications for the USPS

FedEx's earnings announcement and conference provided some insights into the parcel market and the increasing integration of the Postal Services delivery network with the marketing and distribution capabilities of FedEx.   The comments relating to FedEx Smart Post seem to indicate that United Parcel Service and other carriers that compete in the market for delivering small parcels to households, whether by their own drivers or by the Postal Service may be losing market share to FedEx.

Here are the relevant excerpts:

 Parcel Volume

Dave Bronczek – President and CEO of FedEx Express from the Q & A

Well, Art, as Fred mentioned in his opening remarks, we expect a very solid peak season. It always gets a little cloudy after that with the key focal point being Chinese New Year. So, we're optimistic about going into the holiday period and I think we'll have strong performance both in our U.S. networks and international networks through the peak season, but it always gets a little cloudy after that with the important period being around Chinese New Year.

We do expect solid industrial production numbers for the calendar year 2010 and going into 2011 in the 4% to 5% range, and we expect a little bit of consumer spending pickup. Our numbers are around 1.5 in calendar year '10 and about 2.6 in calendar year '11. So those are numbers that we’re very comfortable with in terms of supporting our business levels. Obviously, we'll need to wait a little while after peak season to see what the remainder of the year looks like.

The Postal Service can expect an increase in parcels in the 4th quarter and beyond at least as much as large as what FedEx expects.  As will be shown below, the volume of parcels that the Postal Service delivers is tied to how many parcels FedEx and other similar firms feed to its delivery network.

Distribution Patterns

Alan Graf  - CFO from the Q and A
 Let me just add, particularly in the high-tech sector, our customers don't have any inventory. And what's happening, the market is coming to us as there's a disintermediation of intermediate distribution. Items are going directly from where they are manufactured to point of consumption, which is called International Priority Express, and that's what’s so exciting about the next few years around here is, that's going to continue, and with the reliability that we put up, there's no need to have an intermediate warehouse and there's no need to have a backlog of things that can go obsolete on the shelves and that's part of the excitement that we see around here.

In response to a question about inventory, Alan Graf highlights one of the challenges competing in the domestic home-delivery parcel market.   Inventory of items manufactured overseas, and in particular items that weigh less than ten pounds are no longer shipped to a domestic warehouse for shipping to the household customers.   As the retailer does not know where in the United States the sales will come from or for that matter, what color, size, and in the case of computers, the processor, specific amount of memory, size of hard drive, and other components that the customer plans to order, keeping inventory in the United States becomes quite expensive.  Given the difference in labor costs, it becomes cheaper to pay international air freight than to ship a basic model to the United States, and then modify it for individual orders.  

FedEx continues to deliver these items within its Express network and United Parcel Service delivers them within their standard network.   The Postal Service could enter the market for the delivery of foreign sourced retail sales for home delivery only if it offered a price competitive delivery service in conjunction with DHL or TNT or a foreign post that offered the same security as what FedEx and UPS offer (signature requirements and tracking service) at a competitive price for the total end to end transportation charge.  It could more easily offer a price competitive service that allowed for pick-up at a Post Office or automated kiosk in conjunction with any carrier for a price well below the cost of home delivery.

Parcel Prices:

Mike Glen - President and CEO of FedEx Services from the Q & A

We were pleased with the Domestic Express volume performance. It is also being driven by the high-tech high value added sector. But the particular point that I want to make here is about the strong yield management activities that are in place and we will continue going forward. That is our primary objective. While we want to continue to grow volume and expect that we will do that, our primary focus is on improving yields, at the domestic Express business as well as in Ground and certainly LTL. So, our primary focus is not on market share so much as opposed to continuing to improve yields.

Dave Bronczek – President and CEO of FedEx Express from the Q & A

This is Dave. I’ll just add to what Mike said, and I've mentioned this a couple of times before and we'll talk about it in a couple of weeks here. Yes, the volume is up 3% and yes, my yields are up 7% for an overall revenue increase of 10%, but again, the global network that FedEx Express is, the more international packages that end up in the United States in the inbound, or outbound part of my cycle drives more and more profits automatically. So, the more international packages that end up in my U.S. domestic trucks coupled with the yield improvement program that Mike just talked about is a significant profit driver for FedEx Express.

FeEx's increases in yield (average revenue per piece) reflect a concerted effort to raise the average rate that its customers pay.  While some of the increase in reflects an increase in weight and a higher proportion of international shipments for FedEx Express, it is clear that even in an economy with slow growth, FedEx is able to raise its prices for parcel delivery services.

Service Quality:

Fred Smith from opening statement

FedEx Ground continues to accelerate its network providing a clear speed advantage over the competition. Quite simply, FedEx Ground is faster to more U.S. locations than any other ground carrier.

Just since this last January, FedEx Ground has increased the speed of nearly 3,700 lanes. Since June 2003, FedEx Ground has accelerated its delivery times by one day or more in about 82,000 lanes. FedEx Ground now delivers more than half its volume of packages in two business days or less, and more than 80% in three days or less. FedEx Ground service levels are at all-time highs.

For the Postal Service, FedEx Ground's improved service standards pose a competitive threat to Priority Mail as for many origin destination pairs FedEx Ground rates are less than Priority Mail.   To the extent that United Parcel Service is also expanding the geographic area that has delivery in less than two or three days, they create a competitive advantage over Priority Mail.

Integration with the Postal Service Delivery Network:

 Mike Glenn - President and CEO of FedEx Services

I want to comment on one thing and caution you about looking at the Ground numbers in a vacuum. One of the strategic advantages that we have is SmartPost. SmartPost allows us to attack the residential lightweight business in a very efficient and profitable way. So rather than trying to steer that traffic into the Ground network and the Home network in particular, we steer that traffic into the SmartPost network.
So by definition, some of the growth potential that might otherwise go to Ground is going to SmartPost, and I think you can see the very strong performance we have there. So you have to look at our Ground strategy as an overall residential strategy, including SmartPost. We are very pleased with our ability to continue to have industry-leading growth rates and very strong yield improvement efforts at Ground, and I think that's based upon the combination of a great sales team that is armed with the tremendous value proposition and that's a formula for success.

Fred Smith from the Q & A

So, a good example of that is what Mike Glenn just talked to you about. If you really want to talk about the most cost-sensitive segment of the market, it is lightweight, low value-added retail items going to the home. There is no one that has the density that can compete with United States Postal Service. That's why several years ago, we came up with the strategy of developing a SmartPost service, and why it is growing at huge rates. So, we firmly believe that our strategy which has allowed us to pick-up in the commercial ground sector, what about 12 market share points...

Alan Graf - CFO from the opening statement

FedEx SmartPost average daily volumes grew 9% to $1.1 million as a result of gains in market share and the introduction of new service offerings. Yields at FedEx SmartPost increased 19% primarily due to lower postage costs as a result of increased deliveries to U.S. Postal Service, final destination facilities and higher fuel surcharges.

FedEx clearly sees its SmartPost service as a competitive advantage.   Given that it offers shippers in a highly price sensitive market very low parcel delivery rates a competitive service it increases what the Postal Service delivers.   Pricing this service to FedEx requires a great deal of understanding as to what FedEx is charging customers and what portion of that charge represents the Postal Service's part.   Trying to set this rate within a regulatory context is particularly difficult and raises a question as to whether the rate increases for the Postal Service's portion of the revenue from a parcel delivery shipment should reflect the ability of FedEx and similar carriers to raise prices for end to end service or some other standard.  

To the extent that regulated parcel services are primarily originated by FedEx and similar firms, then the value of the regulation to the shipper of regulated rates may be diminished by the benefits that FedEx and similar firms capture for themselves.

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