MONTREAL, Que. – Improving conditions across all business segments are expected this year by TFI International chairman and CEO Alain Bedard, but weakness in the US truckload segment could continue through the first half of the year.
On a conference call with analysts and business media, Bedard said he’s confident US truckload conditions will improve in the third and fourth quarters of this year. But while US truckload was the most challenging segment for TFI in the fourth quarter, Bedard said he’s pleased with the performance of the group.
“CFI is a diamond of a name,” he said of the US truckload group, rebranded as such after the acquisition of XPO Logistics’ truckload operations last year. “It’s a great company. It was bought by Conway about 10 years ago and the team that was running the company is still there. I’m very proud…we’re no magicians but if everyone is down 30% and you’re down 15%, you’re doing a hell of a job. I feel very good about the people we have here. Bringing back the CFI name is helping us because it was a quality name and that’s why we brought it back.”
CFI is increasing the number of owner-operators it uses and Bedard said there’s some tractor “catch-up” purchases that are required there. Bedard said he’s not concerned about the Trump administration affecting the group’s Mexico operations. He said improvement in US truckload operations will happen this year, “We just don’t know when.”
“The US truckload market is still soft, it’s still a buyer’s market,” Bedard said. “There’s still an issue with price but already a lot of the shippers are starting to get nervous (about capacity) and if Mr. Trump’s economy starts to pick up and if he’s able to grow by 3% the GDP in the US, that will put pressure on rates and put pressure on truckers and there will be a changing of the environment in the US truckload market.”
In Canada, Bedard said conditions are improving. The LTL segment continues to shrink but TFI is still an eager player in this space and looks to continue with its consolidation approach. Bedard pointed out TFI is making more in LTL on lower revenue.
“The LTL market in Canada will keep on shrinking, there’s no doubt about that,” Bedard said.
He cited the acquisition of National Fast Freight as an example of the consolidation that’s occurring as smaller players struggle to make money.
“That’s one example of one player that’s now under the umbrella of TFI and slowly we’ll be improving their numbers. At least that’s one guy who decided to abandon the market,” said Bedard.
The recent acquisition of Cavalier Transportation is an altogether different story, he added.
“Those guys built a fantastic business over time. It’s not a fixer-upper, that’s a great company that’s joining the family,” he said.
Bedard continues to see growth for the package and courier segment, thanks to the increase in e-commerce.
Looking at domestic truckload, Bedard said the situation is improving in Alberta. The domestic van segment is likely to stay stable this year, he predicted. Specialized transportation services should see some growth.
TFI International continues to be exploring various acquisitions in Canada and the US.
“TFI will keep on growing through M&A,” Bedard said. “2017 is going to be a busy year for us. Most of the growth will come from the US. I’m working on a few things there that will probably be public in the next six to 12 months. We believe you buy on bad news and sell on good news. There’s a lot of bad news right now in the US, lots of unknowns and lots of instability so maybe it’s the right time to make a move.”
But while TFI is willing to take on the odd “fixer-upper” in Canada, Bedard said that won’t likely be the approach south of the border.
“Why buy a fixer-upper when you can buy something better at the equivalent price,” he said, in reference to currently depressed valuations.
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