I mentioned to you a couple of days back that from time to time, I would share a few war stories on these virtual pages. But since we are still getting to know each other, I won’t be able to get into some of the more scandalous stories (like about a former boss of mine from my aluminum trading days who lived a parallel life to Marc Rich — who incidentally was one of the most entertaining characters in the metals industry). You all might remember Rich as the guy who evaded taxes but who was pardoned by Clinton right before he left office (I think my former boss and Rich, in fact, knew each other from their Phibro days). Or how my first trading deal was with Carlos Slim (okay, not him directly but his company Productos Nacobre)…but those tales will also have to wait.
Today, I’m just going to share a quick tidbit about one of the firms Stuart and I used to work with in Russia called Rusal. I happened to type them into Google this evening just to check out their latest happenings and lo and behold, I found this article from Reuters about what their access to cheap Siberian hydropower has allowed them to do and that is to become the number one aluminum producer in the world. Back in my early trading days (1994 to be specific), energy was important but it didn’t seem to dominate the headlines as it does now. There were so many market inefficiencies and with a nascent internet, it was easy as a trader to identify un-competitive suppliers and subsequently undercut them. Moreover, the notion of vertical integration – shoring up energy supplies combined with the mining and or manufacturing processes had waned as companies were looking to shed non-core assets. But more recently, things have changed. Competitive advantage in the metals industries can be gained and lost based upon access to low cost energy supplies. We have seen Chinese suppliers duke it out for contracts with the winning supplier just undercutting its closest competitor by minimizing its energy costs.
We are also seeing buying organizations of all sizes doing more to identify the cost drivers behind the quotations. Just recently I heard of a Fortune 500 company seeking to implement a strategy of multi-tier sourcing in China. We also know of a small consumer products manufacturing firm seeking to do the same thing by aggregating component supplies across their Chinese supply base. The challenge will be accessing the cost information from component suppliers. Without question, the times they are a changin’.