Tariff planning boosts C.H. Robinson's Global Forwarding business
- C.H. Robinson's Global Forwarding business revenue grew more than 16% from 2017 to 2018, in part due to shippers planning and adjusting their supply chains for tariffs, executives said on an earnings call Wednesday.
- "[We] continue to invest in expanding and scaling our Global Forwarding network precisely for reasons like this, that if customers do end up making decisions that these tariffs and supply chain changes are going to be permanent and move their sourcing locations, we're confident that we'll be able to move with them," John CEO Wiehoff told analysts.
- Although "planning is accelerating" related to tariffs, Wiehoff said C.H. Robinson hasn't seen too many customers shift their supply chains so far. "There is high potential" for changes to routing and sourcing, he said.
As companies report their fourth quarter earnings, tariffs come up frequently as cause of headwinds, added costs or eroded margins.
But C.H. Robinson COO Robert Biesterfeld, Jr. told analysts something they may not be accustomed to hearing.
"The current set of tariffs in place has not had a significant impact on our Global Forwarding financial results," he said on the company's earnings call Wednesday.
In fact, the results have been quite the opposite. Net revenues, operating income and operating margin all grew year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2018 for the Global Forwarding business.
As a logistics company handling global shipments, C.H. Robinson may be one of the few companies reaping the benefits from ongoing trade tensions between the U.S. and China.
Not knowing whether tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods from China will increase to 25% in March — up from the from the current level of 10% — has prompted businesses to plan for a worst-case scenario. "We do believe there were modest amounts of advanced shipping and inventory buildup in 2018," Wiehoff said, referring to an acceleration of shipments to beat tariffs last year.
The increased volume provided a boost to C.H. Robinson, particularly in the Global Forwarding segment, Biesterfeld said. Wiehoff anticipated continued growth in the business unit in 2019, because "there's still so much remaining uncertainty around where those trade negotiations in Asia and Europe will both land," he said.
A delegation from China arrived in Washington, D.C., Wednesday for trade talks. President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He Thursday afternoon. But "no final deal will be made until my friend President Xi, and I, meet in the near future to discuss and agree on some of the long standing and more difficult points," Trump tweeted Thursday morning.
"All of the discussion around supply chain strategy, where will your suppliers be, will shippers have to move out of China into other places in Asia, those communications are going on," Wiehoff said.
Follow Shefali Kapadia on Twitter