Special Episode, Pt. 2: Long-Term Supply Chain Restructuring

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Special Episode, Pt. 2: Long-Term Supply Chain Restructuring

As the acute bottlenecks in supply chains resolve in the long-term, some structural issues may remain, creating both opportunities and challenges for policymakers, industry leaders, and investors.

----- Transcript -----

Michael Zezas Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Michael Zezas, head of public policy research and municipal strategy for Morgan Stanley.

Daniel Blake And I'm Daniel Blake, equity strategist covering Asia and emerging markets.

Michael Zezas And on part two of this special edition of the podcast. We'll be assessing the long term restructuring of global supply chains and how this transition may impact investors. It's Wednesday, January 12th at 9 a.m. in New York.

Daniel Blake And it's 10:00 p.m. in Hong Kong.

Michael Zezas So, Daniel, we discussed the short and medium term for supply chains, but as we broaden out our horizon, which challenges are temporary and which are more structural?

Daniel Blake We do think there are structural challenges that are emerging and have been present for some time, but have been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and by this surge in demand that we're seeing and a panic about ordering. So we are seeing them most acute in areas of transportation where we don't expect a return to pre-COVID levels of freight rates or indeed lead times. We also see more acute pressures persisting in parts of the leading edge supply chain in semiconductors, as well as in areas of restructuring around decarbonization, for example, in EV materials and the battery supply chain. But more temporary areas are those that have been subject to short-term production shortfalls and areas where we are seeing demand that has been pulled forward in some regards and where we are also seeing the channel being restocked in areas that were not necessarily production disrupted. And so this in the tech space, for example, is more acute in some consumer electronics categories as opposed to autos, where we do have very lean inventory positions and it will take longer to rebuild.

Daniel Blake But in the short run, we do think what will be important to watch will be the development of new COVID variants and the responses from policymakers and public health officials to those and the extent to which production and distribution can be managed in the context of those challenges. So really, I think a lot comes back to the public policy decision. So what are you seeing and tracking most closely from here?

Michael Zezas Yeah, I think it's important to focus on the choices made by policymakers globally. You and I have talked about and reported on this concept of a multi-polar world. This idea that there are multiple economic power poles and that each of them might be pursuing somewhat different strategies when it comes to trade rules, tech standards, supply chain standards, et cetera. So I think the US-China dynamic is a great example of this. Obviously, over the last several years, the U.S. and China have shifted to a model where they define for themselves what they think is in their best economic and national security interest and in order to promote those interests, adopt a set of policies that are both defensive and offensive. So with the U.S., for example, there were tariff increases in 2018 and 2019. Since then, they have mostly shifted to raising non-tariff barriers like export restriction controls and increasingly over the last year have also been pivoting towards offensive tactics. So promoting legislation to invest in reshoring like the US ICA. So what this means then is that companies that had been benefiting from globalization and access to end markets and production processes in the U.S. and China now may need to recalibrate and take on new costs when they're transitioning their value chain for these conditions of kind of new barriers, new frictions in commerce between the U.S. and China.

Daniel Blake And take us through the corporate perspective. What are you seeing and how should we think about the corporate response to these supply chain challenges?

Michael Zezas A conceptual framework we laid out was to put different types of corporate sectors into categories based on how much their production processes or end markets were subject to increasing trade and transportation friction and or subject to labor shortages. And we came up with four different categories using these two axes. The first category is bottlenecks, where you have tight labor conditions and increasing trade and transportation friction, leaves these industries little choice but to pass through higher costs. Reshorers is another category where you're potentially facing further production cost hikes from trade and transportation friction but these firms are increasingly interested in domestic investment that can steady their supply chain challenges. There's also global diversifiers where trade and transportation frictions may be steady, but labor scarcity and disruption risk creates margin pressure. So that pushes sectors like these to invest in geographical supply chain diversification so they can access new labor pools and automation technology that increases their productivity. And the last category is new globalizers. So this is a relatively capital intensive industry or an industry that's able to source labor globally, given limited impact from trade and transportation frictions. It really means that these business models might be able to pursue the status quo and not have to change much at all.

Michael Zezas So, Daniel, do you have some examples of industries that might fit into these categories and how that might presents either an opportunity or a challenge for investors?

Daniel Blake We have looked at this at the sector and company level for major companies impacted by this theme of supply chain restructuring. And what I would highlight is that semiconductors are the classic bottleneck industries. They have been the acute choke points in the global economy. They have seen rising pricing power. They have seen a significant investment going in, and that has been benefiting the semiconductor capital equipment names. In terms of the reshorers, we think naturally to the US capital goods cycle. And here, our analysts has highlighted more vertical integration and really securing more of the parts supply chain, really a shortening of supply chains that is a response to these supply chain uncertainties that have emerged. And then on global diversifier, this category here, we think, is quite relevant to a lot of the tech hardware space. So semiconductors is more higher tech and more capital intensive. And in contrast, the tech hardware space tends to be more associated with assembly, distribution, marketing. And here we do think that there is potential for more diversification to broaden out exposure across supply chains and labor pools going forward. And finally, on new globalizers, overall, the key categories we have looked at in this report, we didn't see falling into this bucket. But we do think there are sectors that will continue to be new globalizers, and we see them more in the consumer and services oriented spaces of the of the global economy.

Michael Zezas So our framework represents a view of how things will settle globally over the medium to long term in a bit of a mixed picture where some sectors benefit, others have to transition through higher costs. But are there alternative cases, Daniel, where things could be better for the global economy or worse for the global economy than is envisioned in this framework we laid out?

Daniel Blake If we turn to the bull case for the global economy, what we're really looking at is a scenario where demand remains manageable and supported. But we're seeing additional supply come through and an easing of supply chain tensions. So there we would look first to the demand side of the equation, given supply takes longer to ramp up. And for us, a bull case would see a recovery of consumption skewed towards services spending that has been held back by the pandemic, and that helps keep the jobs and earnings recovery moving. But it eases some of the stress on the goods supply chain that may also be alleviated by the acute bottlenecks that we talk about in our base case, resolving and taking some more anxiety out of purchasing managers equation into 2022. In contrast, the bear case is quite clear the acute risk at this point is around new COVID variants, the impact on production and transport, as we saw just recently. So the potential for a rerun of these restrictions is very much in front of us as we're seeing selective lockdowns at time of recording starting to come through in some cities in China. At this point not impacting production materially but that is something we are watching closely. And that means we do think there is potential for demand destruction. The policy response may not be as forthcoming with the scale of stimulus that we saw through 2020 and 2021.

Michael Zezas Daniel, thanks for taking the time to talk.

Daniel Blake Great speaking with you, Michael.

Michael Zezas And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please be sure to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.


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