MT: As a carrier that services the US market, how are you finding things at the moment and when do you see things picking up?
Murray: We are a bellwether to the health of the Canadian export economy because of the nature of our business and we’ve been watching the US economy slide since the fourth quarter of 2006. Canadian politicians were very slow to recognize how reliant we are on the American market and how much of our growth comes from that. It’s almost like we are afraid to acknowledge how much American trade means to us. More than three-quarters of our trade, by value, is with the US. The next closest trading partner is Great Britain at 3%. Would you gather that with the way the Canadian government was dealing with this crisis? Unfortunately the impact was also hidden in government statistics by the growing value of our resource trade, which made it appear as if transborder trade was remaining stable.
MT: How will the economic downturn change the industry? Will the medium and large carriers be hurt as much as many believe the small carriers will?
Murray: I think in some regards it will be some of the larger players who will be hurt the most. We are talking about a 25% drop in commerce right now. You get into some of these larger carriers and that’s a large number of trucks not being used. The capacity issue right now is huge. There is much more capacity now than there is demand. And in a demand-driven industry, this is tantamount to crisis. If I have 1,000 trucks and business is down 25%, that means I’ve got 250 trucks not working. Or maybe, which is even worse, the whole fleet is being run at 75% capacity. That’s what people tend to do first, hoping the economic problems will go away. At MSM, we made those tough decisions before they were made for us. We haven’t had any layoffs. We are doing everything we can to rise and fall as a group with our staff but we’ve talked about job sharing should we need to do more.
Also, the profitability of many corporations of any size these days has a lot to do with how they invested their cash assets. Some have invested those in some very fancy financial instruments to the extent that their profitability was coming more from their investing than their operations. Their operations are used more as a cash flow generator. Great example of that is the insurance industry taking its premiums and investing them in the stock market. The larger a company is the more susceptible, it seems, it is to using such an approach.
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