Truckers Cut Spending as Factory Slowdown Weighs on Operators
Date: Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Hit by the coronavirus-driven slowdown, several carriers in the less-than-truckload sector are reducing pay, cutting hours to preserve cash
Trucking companies that deliver goods to manufacturers are cutting pay, reducing hours for workers and pulling back spending as an initial bump in demand for consumer products gives way to a deepening economic downturn.
Fort Smith, Ark.-based trucker ArcBest Corp. and Johns Creek, Ga.-based Saia Inc. are among the biggest carriers to recently announce cutbacks in a sector that combines multiple shipments on the same truck, a key piece of supply chains that relies heavily on factory and retail customers.
Moody’s Investors Service last week cut its ratings for one of the biggest less-than-truckload operators, Overland Park, Kan.-based YRC Worldwide Inc., saying the company faced a higher risk of default as economic conditions deteriorate.
The cutbacks are a sign of the varied impact coronavirus-driven restrictions are having on different parts of the U.S. economy.
Supermarket chains and retailers with strong online operations are wrestling with heavy demand, pushing shipments to truckers serving Walmart Inc., Home Depot Inc. and other stores, particularly those with coveted goods such as cleaning supplies.
But transportation companies say factory closings aimed at containing the virus, which extend around the country, are weighing more heavily on their earnings.
The biggest coronavirus-driven impacts in March “are for LTL carriers that are heavy on the industrial side, everything from auto parts to aerospace components,” said Satish Jindel, president of research firm SJ Consulting Group Inc.
ArcBest, parent of trucker ABF Freight System, is trimming pay for executives and non-union employees and hourly workers by 15% and instituting a hiring freeze, it said in a Tuesday securities filing. The company, which has said demand for expedited services was hurt by manufacturing and automotive shutdowns in March, is also suspending the employer match for its non-union 401(k) plan and cutting travel and other expenses.
The company is also cutting net capital spending by about 30%. ArcBest said last week it had drawn down the remaining $180 million on its $250 million revolving credit facility and borrowed an additional $45 million against its receivables to increase its cash position.
An ArcBest spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last month Saia said it was cutting pay for officers and directors by 5%, deferring annual wage increases and suspending its 401(k) employer match indefinitely, according to a memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Saia is also offering a $10,000 early retirement grant to eligible employees, the memo said, and scaling back hours for some office staff and dock workers, according to a person familiar with the matter.
“Although Saia is considered an ‘essential business,’ we are not immune to the slowdown that is beginning to grip our nation,” the March 27 memo said. “While we fervently believe the health of our nation will respond quickly if we are responsible citizens, the reality is that there will be an economic impact that will take significantly longer to return us to the prosperity we have experienced over the past several years.”
A Saia spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Moody’s said in its downgrade of YRC that longstanding financial problems have left the fourth-largest carrier in the LTL sector exposed in the weakening U.S. economy.
The company generated $4.87 billion in consolidated operating revenue in 2019, but it ended the year with $80.4 million in available liquidity, less than half the amount from the year before, and $902.8 million in debt.
The “weaknesses in YRC’s credit profile, including its thin margins...have left it vulnerable to shifts in market sentiment in these unprecedented operating conditions,” Moody’s wrote.
Stephens Inc. transportation analyst Jack Atkins said in a research note Monday that YRC and its lenders “could face some hard decisions in the months ahead depending on the severity of the economic contraction.” He said “a potential bankruptcy” could benefit other big operators such as Old Dominion Freight Line Inc. and XPO LogisticsInc.
A YRC spokesman declined to comment.
West Chester, Pa.-based, family-owned LTL carrier A. Duie Pyle Inc. said it is temporarily reducing pay by 10%, with a 15% cut for senior leaders, and furloughing some employees as it copes with business shutdowns along the Interstate 95 corridor.
“The effect is basically a 30% reduction in our daily shipment volumes over the past five business days,” said Chief Executive Peter Latta. “My brother and I are not drawing any salary.”