By Paul Page
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One of the world's biggest consumer goods suppliers is trying to fight upstart competitors with some of their own guerilla tactics. Anglo-Dutch packaged-goods giant Unilever PLC has started rolling out its own version of highly-targeted brands in areas such as toothpaste and shampoo as a response to the consumer movement toward smaller, niche or locally made products. The WSJ's Saabira Chaudhuri writes the tactic is aimed at matching Unilever's vast scale and its global supply chain with more nimble marketing schemes and product choices. It's a response to a broad-based revolt among shoppers that threatens a business model that has served Unilever and other goods suppliers for decades, one that's put a premium on relentless consistency and low costs for a long range of goods. With local brands peeling away business that was built on globalization, consumer goods suppliers are trying to maintain the benefits of their world-wide supply chains without taking a hit from shoppers.
Steelmakers are boosting production capacity in the U.S. again in a bet that they can break the grip that cheap imports have on American industrial supply chains. Companies including Nucor Corp., Tenaris SA and startup Big River Steel LLC are building mills and accelerating output, the WSJ's Bob Tita writes, even as steel flows into the U.S. continue to rise. The steelmakers are counting on new U.S. tariffs to help ward off cheaper foreign goods, but they're also pointing to bigger changes in manufacturing and logistics trends that they expect to boost domestic demand. Nucor says a new site in Missouri to produce reinforcing bar, or rebar, used in construction projects, will be closer to customers, allowing for faster, cheaper delivery. And Tenaris expects to sell directly to its customers, cutting out the middlemen's markup. Still, experts say they're placing risky bets and that cutting costs could also leave them with tighter margins.
Tough talk on tariffs meant to stem the flow of cheap imports of some goods into the U.S. may be having the opposite impact. Foreign makers of products including washing machines and solar panels are ramping up shipments to the U.S., the WSJ's Andrew Tangel reports, boosting inventories at rapid rate ahead of government decisions on potential new barriers. The influx comes after appliance giant Whirlpool Corp. and solar-panel maker Suniva Inc. sought new barriers against what they say is unfair competition from cheap foreign suppliers. Ships brought large residential washing machines to U.S. ports at more than double the previous year's clip in November, according to research group Panjiva, providing up to six months' worth of surplus washer inventory. U.S. import volumes for solar panels and related products also more than doubled. Whirlpool says the imports suggest competitors are stockpiling goods, undermining any tariffs before they even take effect.
SUPPLY CHAIN STRATEGIES
Dairy sellers weren't counting on the competition from almonds when they started boosting flows of organic milk into growing markets. In a turnaround at supermarkets that highlights the risks in riding new consumer trends, dairy producers are sinking in an oversupply of organic milk as the very shoppers who drove demand for the specialty product move on to newer alternatives. The WSJ's Heather Haddon and Benjamin Parkin report that food companies and dairy farmers that invested in organic production after a yearslong surge in demand now are losing space in shopping carts at a surprising rate to almond, coconut and other plant-based milks. The result shows a big disconnect between the developing market and the dairy-industry forecasts that projected organic-milk demand would continue to grow at the initial pace. Producers now are trying to divert their supplies to other products like cheeses even as they cull the herds that were built up based on those earlier forecasts.
IN OTHER NEWS
South Korea impounded a second ship suspected of transferring oil to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions. (WSJ)
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster and Sen. Orrin Hatch became the latest Republicans to announce their retirement from Congress. (WSJ)
Wages are starting to grow in U.S. cities that have the tightest labor markets. (WSJ)
Mexico's exports rose 9.2% in November, including an 11.6% surge in vehicles and auto parts exports. (WSJ)
The eurozone's economy grew at an estimated 2.4% rate last year, the strongest growth since 2007. (WSJ)
Texas-based Commercial Metals Co. will acquire assets from a Brazilian rival that would double its share of the market for rebar, a key construction material. (WSJ)
Airbus SE finalized a record-setting order for 430 passenger jets from four airlines linked to private equity firm Indigo Partners LLC. (WSJ)
Operating costs for U.S. passenger airlines are rising faster than revenues. (WSJ)
Global sales of passenger cars and trucks likely surpassed 90 million for the first time in 2017. (WSJ)
U.K. manufacturing cooled in December from a four-year high the month before. (The Independent)
Honda Motor Co. will work with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. to develop services for connected cars. (Nikkei Asian Weekly)
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will boost its apparel and footwear sourcing from Cambodia amid growing concerns over political unrest there. (Fibre2Fashion)
Global air freight prices soared in November at the fastest rate since the aftermath of the financial crisis. (Lloyd's Loading List)
South Korean shipyards sharply raised their 2018 order targets on forecasts of strengthening shipping trade. (Yonhap)
Canadian regulators say the country's two big railroads exceeded their grain revenue entitlement for the past crop year. (Progressive Railroading)
Yangtze River Development Ltd. is buying Wuhan Economic Development Port Co. and plans to expand logistics infrastructure at the central China city. (American Shipper)
Hamburg-based Essberger Tankers is buying fellow chemical tanker operator Crystal Nordic. (Seatrade Maritime)
Chinese social networking service Renren Inc. bought U.S. truck-parking appTrucker Path. (Fleet Owner)
Paul Page is deputy editor of WSJ Logistics Report. Follow him at @PaulPage, and follow the entire WSJ Logistics Report team: @brianjbaskin , @jensmithWSJ and @EEPhillips_WSJ. Follow the WSJ Logistics Report on Twitter at @WSJLogistics.
Write to Paul Page at [email protected]