Wednesday, April 25, 2007

CAT bitten by pre-buy and slowing economy

World Trucks Blog: CAT North American On-Highway Business Plunges 53 Per Cent.

The fallout from the slowing economy and the EPA Diesel emissions rules keeps coming. Truck and trailer manufacturers are announcing falling sales and layoffs as fleets stop buying. Trucking companies are missing revenue and profit targets as a glut of trucks chasing a shrinking freight base put shippers back in the drivers seat (and rates back in the crapper). The latest victim is Caterpillar which saw engine sales in the US fall 53% in the first quarter of this year.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Intermodal Will Not Save Us

National Industrial Transportation League's (NITL) Spring Policy Forum notebook: Are longer, heavier trucks the solution to freight capacity crisis?
There is a growing pile of freight forecasts over the next decade or so and the bottom line on all those reports is simple.

“It is up and up and up,” said Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Associations, told a group of 75 shippers at the National Industrial Transportation League's (NITL) Spring Policy forum held just outside of Washington earlier this week. “There’s going to be enough freight for everybody. How the pie is sliced up really doesn’t matter. We’re obviously going to have a lot more trucks out on the road.”

Here are some of the forecasts: Commercial trucks to grow by 40 percent over the next 10 years. Intermodal growth forecast to increase by 80 percent over the next decade. ATA forecasts a need for 110,000 new drivers by 2014, with about half of those needed just to keep up with economic growth. Railroads are hiring 60,000 new workers to keep up with demand over the next three years. Over the next decade, there are forecasts of 30 percent increases in freight demand across all modes.

NITL President John B. Ficker said by 2035 there might be a doubling of freight volume. Even if that forecast is only half right, that will strain today’s current freight capacity system beyond its limit.

Even with Intermodal growing at twice the rate of truckload, the number of trucks on the road is going to increase, add in more congestion and the number is going to grow even faster (if you're not sure the truck is going to finish its last load on time, you might want to have another one on hand to pick up the next load). Bigger trucks are probably part of the solution, but so is increasing "door to door" rail traffic. A lot of the places I hauled to and from when I drove over the road still had rail sidings. It is better for railroad profit margins to run massive unit trains from yard to yard rather than moving carload freight from shipper to receiver but it is not necessarily better for the nation. The ATA supports a fuel tax increase (provided it is devoted entirely to roads) but there's no way we're going to increase lane-miles 40%). A Weight limit increase to 97K would reduce the speed of growth a bit, but most loads cube out before they scale out (and in fact tonnage has been growing slower than dollar value)

You're Special....Just Like Everyone Else

CareerJournal:Most-Praised Generation Craves Kudos at Work
Childhood in recent decades has been defined by such stroking -- by parents who see their job as building self-esteem, by soccer coaches who give every player a trophy, by schools that used to name one "student of the month" and these days name 40.

Now, as this greatest generation grows up, the culture of praise is reaching deeply into the adult world. Bosses, professors and mates are feeling the need to lavish praise on young adults, particularly twentysomethings, or else see them wither under an unfamiliar compliment deficit.

Employers are dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up. Corporations including Lands' End and Bank of America are hiring consultants to teach managers how to compliment employees using email, prize packages and public displays of appreciation. The 1,000-employee Scooter Store Inc., a power-wheelchair and scooter firm in New Braunfels, Texas, has a staff "celebrations assistant" whose job it is to throw confetti -- 25 pounds a week -- at employees. She also passes out 100 to 500 celebratory helium balloons a week. The Container Store Inc. estimates that one of its 4,000 employees receives praise every 20 seconds, through such efforts as its "Celebration Voice Mailboxes."

My God, are they in for a rude awakening when they hit the "layoff zone" (about 40). Of course maybe that will be changed as well, Pink slips....with Balloons!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

That's gonna leave a mark

Retailer Magazine: Foreclosure Surge in California via HousingPanic blog
A surge of foreclosures in California has some economists concerned that the fallout will be long lasting and potentially wound the whole economy.

The 11,033 foreclosures in the first three months of the year represent an 800 percent increase over the same period a year earlier.

I does seem like an 800% increase of a negative trend has to be serious. Of course I know that high yield bonds have had remarkably low default rates for the past few years. Risk spreads have been very low, in part due to the liquidity swirling around the fixed income market, in part due to low defaults, and in part due to "hiding" risky mortgage debt into mortgage backed securities.

Monday, April 16, 2007

On the Flipside

CNN:Al-Sadr orders his bloc's ministers to quit government
Anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered six cabinet ministers from his political bloc to leave Iraq's government on Monday, making good on a threat issued last week after the prime minister rejected a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops.

The ministers' withdrawal was confirmed to CNN by Nasser al Rubaie, a spokesman for the bloc.

The parallels to the US domestic debate will no doubt be humorous to the wingnuts. But you can take that parallel another way. Al Sadr risks irrelevance as the folks who support drift away. The Mahdi army is lying low to avoid a conflict in Baghdad with the Coalition forces, meanwhile Sunnis are killing Shi'a left and right. Some of his militia commanders are doing their own thing and not paying a lot of attention to his command. His unfinished Seminary education means he is vulnerable to claims to being a pretend cleric. So Sadr is being pushed to an absolutist stand on the issue to avoid irrelevance.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bound to Happen

Fleet Owner: PACCAR joins the engine club
Last month Paccar announced plans to build a $400-million facility to manufacture 12.9-liter and 9.2-liter engines for its Peterbilt, Kenworth and DAF-branded Class 8 trucks for the OEM's North American and global markets. The plant, which will be built at an undisclosed location in the Southeastern U.S., is scheduled for completion in 2009.

The announcement confirms a long-rumored Paccar initiative to vertically integrate its engines in the North American market.

“The Paccar 12.9-liter and Paccar 9.2-liter engines are of a similar displacement as to what's being offered in DAF trucks worldwide,” says Andy Wold, Paccar treasurer.

......According to investment firm Bear Stearns, the Paccar announcement provides yet more evidence of a trend to build greater vertical integration among truck OEMs and would likely erode the market share of engine maker Cummins. The engines built at the Paccar facility will not compete directly with Cummin's 11- and 15-liter engines, but dealers may try to shift customers to Paccar-branded engines to gain more aftermarket parts business, Bear Stearns says.

With this announcement all of the major truck manufacturers will have proprietary engine families. Add in the intense engineering needed now to design workable cooling for the new EGR engines and the result is fewer choices under the hood. I remember when Mack was the only major manufacturer to offer a proprietary engine in a heavy truck and was considered something of an odd duck as a result. When Renault bought them out one of the first turnaround steps was to allow more 3rd party engines. Times (and the owners of Mack) have changed. Cummins and Cat have to wonder how long they are going to be able to keep a viable business in heavy duty diesel engines. The one thing that will help them is trucking is a very conservative industry as a result of the razor thin margins and delivery schedules most carriers work under.

Liars Lie.....Who Knew?

BBC:US urges N Korea to shut reactor

North Korea has missed a deadline to shut down its main reactor. The US has urged North Korea to fulfil its pledge to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, as Pyongyang missed a key deadline for closing the plant. North Korea should "immediately" invite nuclear experts to begin sealing the facility, the US state department said.

But the US said it remained committed to the landmark 13 February agreement.

Under the deal, North Korea agreed to close Yongbyon within 60 days in return for aid. But a row over funds frozen in Macau has stalled progress on the deal.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said it was time for North Korea "to make its move so that all of us can move forward".

In Beijing, US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill said that North Korea's failure to meet the 14 April deadline was cause for concern.

But he said that Chinese officials had urged the US to show patience and to wait "a couple more days" for Pyongyang to comply.

"They said the lines of communication were open... if it is going to get resolved it certainly should be able to get resolved very soon," he said.

What a shock, bribing the Norks to promise to someday turn off the nukes didn't work. What is bizarre is after decrying the Clinton strategy the Bush gang decided to adopt it wholeheartedly. Everyone who thought that was a good idea was never going to give them much credit for "seeing the light" and the reasons it was a bad idea before were still valid. There might be perfectly good reasons for treating with the Boy Tyrant of Pyongyang in spite of his efforts to proliferate (like say the nasty potential effects on Sino-Korean relations of the regime falling apart) but the Bush team touted this deal as a disarmament program. On the bright side, I'm sure the North Koreans will be ready to talk again soon as long we'll keep giving them something for nothing.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

State of Chutzpah

Detroit News: Schwarzenegger to Michigan: Get off your butt
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pulled no punches Wednesday in telling Detroit automakers to "get off your butt" and increase the fuel efficiency of their cars and trucks, saying they are "still lagging behind."

Schwarzenegger's comments came as he responded to a billboard that went up last month along Interstate 75 in Detroit that criticized him for mandating vehicle emission caps in California that will be costly for Detroit automakers to meet.

The billboard, from U.S. Rep Joe Knollenberg, R-Bloomfield Hills, reads: "Arnold to Michigan: Drop Dead." It features Schwarzenegger's photo and drew widespread attention.

"Now, there's a billboard in Michigan that accuses me of costing the car industry $85 billion," Schwarzenegger said at a speech in Washington. "The billboard says, 'Arnold to Michigan: Drop dead.' The fact of the matter is what I'm saying is, Arnold to Michigan: Get off your butt. Get off your butt and join us."

Bankrate: The Hummer Army
You're famous, fabulously wealthy and governor of California. What do you drive? If you're Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's the Hummer, a General Motors product derived from the original Humvee military vehicle that saw action in the Gulf War. The Hummer, which comes in the huge H1 model or the smaller, trendier H2 developed a cult following when Schwarzenegger convinced then-manufacturer AM General to sell a consumer model back in 1992. In December 1999, AM General sold the rights to the Hummer brand to GM, which markets the H1 and the smaller H2, which is built off the bones of a Chevy Tahoe.

Schwarzenegger, who got a new H2 model for his birthday, calls the vehicle "an incredibly precise and forceful machine."

These days, Arnold sits high and mighty in his collection of eight of the rugged three-ton, 110-mile an hour supercars.

So join Governor Schmaltzenegger in fixing the planet by buying the least efficient vehicles on the road and then complaining about fuel economy. The states should be sure to follow California's land use, mass transit, and speed enforcement lead as well.

Monday, April 02, 2007

On a Shoestring

WSJ Washington Wire: Huckabee's Very Spartan Operation
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who’s running for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, established a low bar for rivals to clear in disclosing his initial campaign contribution totals. At a breakfast with reporters in Washington, hours before the midnight deadline for the end of the first quarter of 2007, Mr. Huckabee said he had met his goal of raising $500,000 for the quarter and would report having roughly $300,000 in cash on hand. That’s a fraction of what some other candidates in both parties will have raised; fellow Republican Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, raised more than $6-million at his first fund-raising event in January this year.

Mr. Huckabee said his collections so far are enough to finance a shoestring campaign with a dozen staffers that is focused intensively on the early 2008 contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. “We’re running a very spartan operation,” Mr Huckabee said. He acknowledged that upcoming Republican presidential debates beginning in May and this summer’s Iowa “straw poll” would be critical in determining his viability in the race, but expressed satisfaction with the response he’s getting from campaign audiences thus far. “I’m coming away from events with people signing on the dotted line” to offer support, the former governor explained.

“If we get to the point where we can’t buy the plane ticket to Des Moines,” he added, “I’d say, ‘Pull the plug and put this thing to bed.’ ” Among Democrats, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack has already taken that step because of financial straits.

.........A Baptist minister, Mr. Huckabee expressed impatience with the political choices so far of some religious conservatives. In the March Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Mr. Giuliani led among Republicans with 38%; even among evangelical voters, the twice-divorced former New York City mayor, a supporter of abortion rights, received 37% to 2% for Mr. Huckabee.

“If Republicans in this election vote in such a way as to say a candidate’s personal life and personal conduct in office doesn’t matter,” he declared, “then a lot of Christian evangelical leaders owe Bill Clinton a public apology.”

I appreciate that he is not nearly as bound to corporate cash as the frontrunners, but you have to wonder if lying back and waiting for everyone ahead of you to stumble is a good strategy. Huckabee seems to be in some ways similar to Edwards, good at retail face to face politics, not so good at Wholesale national media politics. Being good at retail will get you a long way, but I don't think it'll get you to the White House. Another thought is he's really running for 2012 but needs to make an appearance this time just to build the foundation for that cycle.

It's like Deja Vu all over again

Balkinazation:Accountability and the Renegade Executive
......Gonzales also gave the go-ahead for surveillance that violated FISA, a federal criminal statute. Indeed, Newsweek gave us a fascinating insider's account of how all this went down at Justice. Then Attorney General John Ashcroft was out in the hospital for a gallbladder operation. James Comey, his deputy, said "no," he couldn't possibly authorize this. Neither, apparently, would Jack Goldsmith, the man responsible for the Attorney General's legal opinions. Gonzales had to find alternative means to get this through. And in short order Ashcroft, Comey and Goldsmith were gone from Justice and Gonzales arrived with a new team of enablers......

Wikipedia: Saturday Night Massacre
[Special Prosecutor Archibald] Cox had been appointed by [Attorney General Elliot] Richardson in May of that year, after having given assurances to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would appoint an independent counsel to investigate the events surrounding the Watergate break-in of June 17, 1972. Cox subsequently issued a subpoena to President Nixon, asking for copies of taped conversations recorded in the Oval Office and authorized by the Nixon, as evidence. The president initially refused to comply with the subpoena, but on October 19, 1973, he offered what was later known as the Stennis Compromise – asking U.S. Senator John C. Stennis to review and summarize the tapes for the special prosecutor's office.

Cox refused the compromise that same evening, and it was believed that there would be a short rest in the legal maneuvering while government offices were closed for the weekend. However, President Nixon acted to dismiss Cox from his office the next night – a Saturday. He contacted Attorney General Richardson and ordered him to fire the special prosecutor. Richardson refused, and instead resigned in protest. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus to fire Cox; he, too, refused and was fired by Nixon.

Nixon then contacted the Solicitor General, Robert Bork, and ordered him as acting head of the Justice Department to fire Cox. Richardson and Ruckelshaus had both personally assured the congressional committee overseeing the special prosecutor investigation that they would not interfere – Bork had made no such assurance to the committee. The thus unencumbered future Supreme Court nominee complied with Nixon's order and fired Cox.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

And folks complain about Kelo

Rants from the Rookery:What happens in China when you say no to developers

The Chinese have embraced a capitalism of the sort preferred by the well connected in the Republican party, the levers of power bend the market in favor of a few players and if anyone gripes the media is told to look the other way (fortunately our media isn't quite so well trained/intimidated.

Suicide by China

Jeffrey Saut:“Texas Hold ‘Em”

The Chinese state has finally confirmed what we have been saying for a number of months: they have announced that $8 billion of government money has now been authorized and allocated as seed money to begin constructing a state-held Chinese airplane company. Furthermore, the new company will be designed to stand as a competitor to America's Boeing and Europe's Airbus. What makes this a bit shocking is that the Chinese ruling party's commission was so bold that it admitted China still does not have all the technical expertise it needs to build such large planes, but not to worry, it said, that is why they had approved Airbus' request to open a new factory in China -- one that will build four giant A320 jumbo jets a month.

“As usual, the government has required that all modern technology in the Airbus plant must be transferred to the Chinese state. This new plant will yield a treasure-trove of missing technology to fill in the gaps in China's knowledge when it comes to building larger civilian and military planes. China has already pulled much technology from dozens of Boeing projects in the country -- enough to allow them to soon build their own small jetliners. They are accepting orders now for a small regional plane, with deliveries to start in one year.”

. . . Adrian Van Eck

We reprise Adrian Van Eck’s comments this morning because they speak to a point we have been making for the past few years whenever asked, “When will the Chinese stop buying our bonds?” Unwaveringly, our response has been, “Whenever the Chinese no longer need us!” Yet the thought process goes much deeper than that. We here in the U.S. are playing the card game called “Texas Hold ‘Em” whereby you win one hand at a time. The Chinese, however, are playing the board game called “GO.” Now “GO” is played by two people alternately placing black and white stones on vacant intersections of a 19 x 19 rectilinear grid. A stone, or group of stones, is captured (and removed) if it is surrounded by the stones of the opposing color. As opposed to “Texas Hold ‘Em,” instead of playing to win one hand at a time, the strategy of “GO” is to sacrifice a “stone” here and there to win in the long run.

Think about these two different strategies and reread Mr. Van Eck’s comments. Plainly the Chinese are “importing” technology at a MUCH faster rate than they could ever develop it on their own. We have seen this strategy time and time again whereby the Chinese only allow a high tech manufacturing plant to be built if the company’s modern technology is transferred to the Chinese state. So while companies think they are winning “one hand at a time” by being allowed to build this or that plant, the Chinese are importing technology that would take them decades to develop on their own! Eventually China will be able to build Airbuses on their own and with China’s much cheaper labor costs . . . well, you can figure out what is going to happen over the long run.

Said strategy is about to dawn on America’s automobile companies in spades when China’s “Chery” automobile hits our shores in the not too distant future. As Adrian Van Eck concludes, “If we were Boeing (BA/$90.98), we would cancel every program now running in China, because they are simply training those who would compete with and destroy them! And if we were one of the CEOs of giant U.S. firms who are following Boeing and sending them state-of-the-art equipment (ready to copy), I would understand that this announcement of China's plan to build big planes is a warning shot across the bow. Any of them could be next."

Reminds me of a story from North Dakota. Guy from the local implement dealer goes out to the Hutterites (a German sect that live on large collective farms) and shows him the new manure spreader. They seem impressed and ask if they can try it out for the weekend. With dollar signs dancing in his imagination he readily agrees. Comes back monday and the manure spreader is sitting out in the yard with two more spreaders lined up next to it. They'd taken it apart, figured out how it worked and used it to make a couple of copies, then put it back together again. Of course, they didn't buy the spreader. The Russians used to do that sort of thing, but for high tech goods, the assembly tools and processes themselves are part of the puzzle so the Chinese have taken a new approach. Any company that assembles goods in China is cutting their own throat.

Family Values strike again

Heavy Duty Trucking:Family Values
C.R. England was started in 1920 by Chester England with a Model T truck. Today, grandson Dan England is chairman of the Salt Lake City-based carrier, which runs more than 3,000 tractors.
A look at the management team reveals a number of third- and fourth-generation Englands running the company. Just to name a few: Gene England (Dan's father) is president; Dean England (Dan's brother) is CEO; another brother, Todd, is executive vice president of maintenance; another brother, Corey, is vice president of operations support.
It's that longevity and family that set C.R. England apart from the competition, says Dan. "I represent the third generation; we have many in the fourth generation that are now in top management. We've been able to maintain that continuity of a family business. There are certain principles or values the family has, and I think we're able to maintain those principles in the running of the business."
For an example of those values, look at the company's effort to encourage employees to sign up as organ donors

The really touching thing is the number of folks who will have the opportunity to be organ donors . Another way the firm's family values play out is in their "unconscionable" contracts. Not to mention all the folks who aren't coming to the next reunion.