Posts Tagged ‘ArcelorMittal’

Is vertical integration sexy again?

December 7, 2009

Hot on the heels of my recent posts discussing forward integration, Wall Street Journal is reporting an increase in the incidents of vertical integration.

The article in question cites very prominent recent examples of backward integration (General Motors, Boeing, Apple, Nucor, ArcelorMittal and Oracle) and forward integration (LiveNation and Pepsi), and argues that these moves represent a significant shift in corporate mindset. Perhaps vertical integration is back in favour. If so, this would represent a shift away from four decades or so of de-integration (at least in developed markets).

There are valid qualifiers for this assertion:

“The historical view of vertical integration was that you had complete control of the supply chain and that you could manage it the best,” says Bain & Co. consultant Mark Gottfredson.

Today’s approach is more nuanced. Companies are buying key parts of their supply chains, but most don’t want end-to-end control.

Likewise, there are some strong explanations for specific moves:

GM (who bought into a steering systems supplier) “wanted to assure uninterrupted supply”.

Boeing (who similarly reentered the parts and assembly business) is fighting to regain control of the delayed Dreamliner project.

The steel manufacturers are trying to secure guaranteed supply of ore (and/or scrap) in a period of price uncertainty (where hedging becomes difficult).

Oracle are seeking to offer complete IT solutions (i.e. hardware and software).

Apple’s return to the semiconductor business is explained thus

“By developing its own chips for new mobile devices – a departure from the industry trajectory – Apple hopes to tighten control over a key technology and keep it away from rivals”.

Pepsi’s purchase of several key bottling/distribution partners reportedly reflects greater complexity in the product mix:

“…motivated as consumers flock to noncarbonated beverages, Pepsi is keen to gain more control over the distribution of its growing menu of offerings.”

While the motives for vertical integration would appear to vary considerably, much of these could be viewed as transaction cost issues (i.e. the relative greater costs of contracting effectively with other parties for vital inputs/market access are perceived to outweigh any cost advantages said parties might have). Interestingly. no mention is made of the potential that firms are picking up ‘bargains’ in the GFC-scarred world.


Chasing synergies in a downturn

December 14, 2008

One of the arguments for mergers and acquisitions (M&A) is the synergies that come from sharing value chain activities (economies of scope). Coupled with better parenting, this should see M&As produce cost savings and efficiencies. It can all fall apart, however, if you paid too much for the acquisition, or the costs of funding the purchase leap considerably.

This Economist piece highlights the dramas facing six of the world’s largest materials and mining firms (Xstrata, ArcelorMittal, Tata Steel, Rio Tinto, Lafarge and Cemex) as they try to bed down some very significant M&As from past year or so.

As the article notes, with debt refinancing a whole lot harder to get, and share prices tumbling, these firms are finding life a hell of lot more difficult than they were. It certainly demonstrates the dangers of buying at (or near) the top of the boom, and reminds us again that firms too regularly overestimate the ease of realising such synergies. One hopes that these experienced multinationals have also accurately assessed the complexities of chasing such syenergies across borders.