Supply Chain Management: Inflation may be next looming threat says study

New research from the Hackett Group, a global strategic business advisory firm, suggests more volatility in the supply chain
By Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
June 29, 2011 - SCMR Editorial

Rising prices and other inflationary pressure could reduce corporate profits by up to 9 percent in 2011 and 2012, according to new research from the Hackett Group, a global strategic business advisory firm.

For a typical company with $27.8 billion in revenue, Hackett’s study estimated that commodity and offshore labor inflation could drive a $150 million/year hit to the bottom line. Hackett’s study found new warning signs of inflation on the horizon, said Hackett Chief Research Officer Michel Janssen in an interview with SCMR.

“Global expansion has been the greatest deflationary power in history,” said Janssen. “Now the U.S. is importing inflation.”

According to the study, which polled executives at large global corporations, the recent inflation of commodity prices is likely to increase significantly over the next 12 months, and be accompanied by rising inflation in internal labor costs and external services.

Companies in the study reported that they will pass half of these additional costs onto their buyers but the other half of these costs will need to be absorbed by their organization. In addition, while most companies in the Hackett study say they can effectively anticipate commodity price increases, more than 60 percent say they have not been successful at mitigating these costs. Part of the challenge is that few of today’s executives have experienced significant inflation, last seen in 1981, so organizations are having to learn how to best manage inflation challenges all over again.

Companies are already feeling the effect of rising commodity prices, and have seen commodity prices increase by nearly 5 percent over the past year, according to the Hackett study. Key commodities like crude oil and metals have risen dramatically, with some prices more than doubling over the past two years. Commodity price volatility is also a major factor, having increased by nearly 60 percent since before the recent recession, according to Hackett’s research.

But in the next 12 months, companies in the Hackett study said they expect the rate of inflation for commodities overall to rise by more than 30 percent, to 6.3 percent per year. At the same time, these companies are expecting the rate of inflation for internal labor to more than triple, rising from 0.7 percent to 2.2 percent, and the rate of inflation for external services spending to increase more than two-fold, from 1.2 percent to 3 percent.

Labor and services cost inflation are in part being driven by a tightening of labor supply markets in India, China, and other low-cost labor markets, fueled by increased demand. Most indicators for India and China point to roughly 6-10 percent inflation for 2011.

“Inflation has become one of the top issues with our clients,” said Janssen. “Strength is returning to the global economy, but the rate of inflation has already increased significantly, and clients are concerned about the impact of further inflation during the coming year. Like the proverbial deer in the headlights, many companies see the approaching danger, but don’t know how to get out of the way. There’s real potential for all this to have an impact on growth, profitability, and consumer prices. It’s very tough to keep your promises to Wall Street when you can’t accurately forecast or control your expenses.”

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About the Author

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Patrick Burnson
Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
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