Supply Chain Risks

The Risks of Reshoring

Manufacturing’s return will require re-evaluating insurance programs, challenging underwriters to analyze new risks.
By: | April 7, 2017 • 6 min read

President Donald Trump pledged to create millions of jobs in the American economy. To achieve this goal he wants to convince companies to bring back the bulk of their supply chains to the United States.

But promoting the reshoring of manufacturing will be a hard task and, in order to accelerate this process, Trump looks set to experiment with policy measures that should have significant effect on the operations of multinational companies. The government can, for instance, implement tax reforms to reward companies that invest in America, or impose punitive tariffs on goods imported from suppliers located abroad.

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Trump can also use his well-known persuasion skills to shame firms into creating jobs at home, rather than elsewhere in the world. The latter strategy may already have borne fruit earlier this year with the likes of Ford Motor Co. and Carrier, which shelved plans to expand their production lines in Mexico, opting to invest in Michigan and Indiana instead.

Either way, the government appears to mean business.

“It does the American economy no long-term good to only keep the big box factories where we are now assembling ‘American’ products that are composed primarily of foreign components,” Peter Navarro, the head of the White House National Trade Council, told the “Financial Times” in January. “We need to manufacture those components in a robust domestic supply chain that will spur job and wage growth.”

“Costs have gone up significantly since the big outsourcing wave started some 15 years ago, and the economic advantages have narrowed.” – J. Paul Dittmann, executive director, Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Tennessee

If the administration manages to deliver on its promises, companies will have to review the way they deal with supply chain risks. Experts have warned, for example, that workers’ compensation issues could become a more important factor across their supply chain, and insurance programs could become more expensive as insurance coverages tend to be more comprehensive, and premiums higher, in America than in developing nations. But opportunities could also arise, for example in terms of lower transportation costs and proximity to the final consumer.

In fact, although the subject has gained plenty of attention due to the Trump government’s protectionist views, the reversal of the globalization of supply chains has been going on for some time already, said J. Paul Dittmann, the executive director at the Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Tennessee.

“It is a trend that is already very strong and seems to be growing,” he said. The reasons for this movement are manifold. Higher geopolitical risks have increased the threat of disruption of supply chains around the world in ways that companies did not anticipate some years ago. Dealing with corrupt authorities in the developing world involves plenty of risks of falling afoul with American courts, and economies like China offer less of a cost advantage these days, as income and wage expectations are beginning to catch up with developed economies.

“Costs have gone up significantly since the big outsourcing wave started some 15 years ago, and the economic advantages have narrowed,” Dittmann said. “Many companies have been over-optimistic in their cost analysis, and they often do not fully understand the inventory impact of long distance outsourcing.”

Restructuring Supply Chains

SCM, a think-tank that publishes an annual study on the subject, observed that local-for-local supply chain management strategies have gained popularity among companies since 2012.
Furthermore, the argument that focuses on jobs creation was also played by the Barack Obama administration, and the Economic Development Agency has funded reshoring initiatives for several years already.

That said, Dittmann warned that the movement back to the United States must be a natural one, driven by economic factors, and not by government arm-twisting.

If the authorities want to give the phenomenon a boost, it should address tax and regulatory constraints to the operation of companies in the country, he said.

“To force supply chains into a certain region does not make a lot of sense, and it could put American companies into a position of disadvantage,” he said.

Protective measures could drive production costs up, as wages in America remain much higher than in countries that are vital supply chain markets, such as Mexico or China.

Experts have stressed that industries like consumer electronics, high tech and footwear could suffer considerable impact if restrictive actions are taken against China, while the automotive sector is exposed to any new tariffs on imports from Mexico.

Furthermore, tit-for-tat reactions from foreign governments could restrict the access of American companies to export markets, and retaliation from China would be bad news, for example, for the aerospace industry.

The rise of protectionism, not only in the U.S., but also in Europe and other parts of the world has actually been highlighted by the latest annual report on the matter by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply as a major factor behind an increase in supply chain risks.

Logan Payne, assistant vice president, global client services group, Lockton

The moving of supply chain links from emerging economies to the U.S. should also have a significant effect on the insurance programs of international companies.

It will require them to restructure their programs in order to reflect a broader American footprint, replacing local coverages purchased in foreign markets with others purchased in the U.S., and sometimes acquiring policies that are not really needed in other markets.

That’s the case, for example, with workers’ compensation policies, said Logan Payne, the assistant vice president in Lockton’s global client services group. “In some countries, workers’ compensation is covered by social security systems, while here it is necessary to purchase a separate insurance policy,” he said.

Working mostly in the United States also means that a higher share of a company’s activities will be exposed to a legal system where jury awards are much higher than elsewhere. Therefore, liability programs could become more expensive as local policies purchased abroad are replaced with American ones, Payne said.

The concentration of the supply chain in a single region also means a concentration of business interruption risks. As such, it increases the risk that production will suffer major disruption, if a large event hits one of the supply chain’s links.

On the other hand, risks linked to the shipment and transportation of goods and raw materials should be less of a worry, Payne said.

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“With a more regionalized supply chain, where supplies are much closer and there is less need for transoceanic cargo shipment, transportation is one area where insurance costs should be reduced,” he said.

An additional complication is that decisions about supply chains, more than ever, now entail a significant level of reputational risk.

“The basic message is to be more national, don’t just be global,” Richard Edelman, CEO of marketing firm Edelman, told Reuters during the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“Let’s try and pre-empt that tweet by having a long-term discussion about the supply chain.” &

Rodrigo Amaral is a freelance writer specializing in Latin American and European risk management and insurance markets. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Alternative Energy

A Shift in the Wind

As warranties run out on wind turbines, underwriters gain insight into their long-term costs.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 6 min read

Wind energy is all grown up. It is no longer an alternative, but in some wholesale markets has set the incremental cost of generation.

As the industry has grown, turbine towers have as well. And as the older ones roll out of their warranty periods, there are more claims.

This is a bit of a pinch in a soft market, but it gives underwriters new insight into performance over time — insight not available while manufacturers were repairing or replacing components.

Charles Long, area SVP, renewable energy, Arthur J. Gallagher

“There is a lot of capacity in the wind market,” said Charles Long, area senior vice president for renewable energy at broker Arthur J. Gallagher.

“The segment is still very soft. What we are not seeing is any major change in forms from the major underwriters. They still have 280-page forms. The specialty underwriters have a 48-page form. The larger carriers need to get away from a standard form with multiple endorsements and move to a form designed for wind, or solar, or storage. It is starting to become apparent to the clients that the firms have not kept up with construction or operations,” at renewable energy facilities, he said.

Third-party liability also remains competitive, Long noted.

“The traditional markets are doing liability very well. There are opportunities for us to market to multiple carriers. There is a lot of generation out there, but the bulk of the writing is by a handful of insurers.”

Broadly the market is “still softish,” said Jatin Sharma, head of business development for specialty underwriter G-Cube.

“There has been an increase in some distressed areas, but there has also been some regional firming. Our focus is very much on the technical underwriting. We are also emphasizing standardization, clean contracts. That extends to business interruption, marine transit, and other covers.”

The Blade Problem

“Gear-box maintenance has been a significant issue for a long time, and now with bigger and bigger blades, leading-edge erosion has become a big topic,” said Sharma. “Others include cracking and lightning and even catastrophic blade loss.”

Long, at Gallagher, noted that operationally, gear boxes have been getting significantly better. “Now it is blades that have become a concern,” he said. “Problems include cracking, fraying, splitting.

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“In response, operators are using more sophisticated inspection techniques, including flying drones. Those reduce the amount of climbing necessary, reducing risk to personnel as well.”

Underwriters certainly like that, and it is a huge cost saver to the owners, however, “we are not yet seeing that credited in the underwriting,” said Long.

He added that insurance is playing an important role in the development of renewable energy beyond the traditional property, casualty, and liability coverages.

“Most projects operate at lower capacity than anticipated. But they can purchase coverage for when the wind won’t blow or the sun won’t shine. Weather risk coverage can be done in multiple ways, or there can be an actual put, up to a fixed portion of capacity, plus or minus 20 percent, like a collar; a straight over/under.”

As useful as those financial instruments are, the first priority is to get power into the grid. And for that, Long anticipates “aggressive forward moves around storage. Spikes into the system are not good. Grid storage is not just a way of providing power when the wind is not blowing; it also acts as a shock absorber for times when the wind blows too hard. There are ebbs and flows in wind and solar so we really need that surge capacity.”

Long noted that there are some companies that are storage only.

“That is really what the utilities are seeking. The storage company becomes, in effect, just another generator. It has its own [power purchase agreement] and its own interconnect.”

“Most projects operate at lower capacity than anticipated. But they can purchase coverage for when the wind won’t blow or the sun won’t shine.”  —Charles Long, area senior vice president for renewable energy, Arthur J. Gallagher

Another trend is co-location, with wind and solar, as well as grid-storage or auxiliary generation, on the same site.

“Investors like it because it boosts internal rates of return on the equity side,” said Sharma. “But while it increases revenue, it also increases exposure. … You may have a $400 million wind farm, plus a $150 million solar array on the same substation.”

In the beginning, wind turbines did not generate much power, explained Rob Battenfield, senior vice president and head of downstream at JLT Specialty USA.

“As turbines developed, they got higher and higher, with bigger blades. They became more economically viable. There are still subsidies, and at present those subsidies drive the investment decisions.”

For example, some non-tax paying utilities are not eligible for the tax credits, so they don’t invest in new wind power. But once smaller companies or private investors have made use of the credits, the big utilities are likely to provide a ready secondary market for the builders to recoup their capital.

That structure also affects insurance. More PPAs mandate grid storage for intermittent generators such as wind and solar. State of the art for such storage is lithium-ion batteries, which have been prone to fires if damaged or if they malfunction.

“Grid storage is getting larger,” said Battenfield. “If you have variable generation you need to balance that. Most underwriters insure generation and storage together. Project leaders may need to have that because of non-recourse debt financing. On the other side, insurers may be syndicating the battery risk, but to the insured it is all together.”

“Grid storage is getting larger. If you have variable generation you need to balance that.” — Rob Battenfield, senior vice president, head of downstream, JLT Specialty USA

There has also been a mechanical and maintenance evolution along the way. “The early-generation short turbines were throwing gears all the time,” said Battenfield.

But now, he said, with fewer manufacturers in play, “the blades, gears, nacelles, and generators are much more mechanically sound and much more standardized. Carriers are more willing to write that risk.”

There is also more operational and maintenance data now as warranties roll off. Battenfield suggested that the door started to open on that data three or four years ago, but it won’t stay open forever.

“When the equipment was under warranty, it would just be repaired or replaced by the manufacturer,” he said.

“Now there’s more equipment out of warranty, there are more claims. However, if the big utilities start to aggregate wind farms, claims are likely to drop again. That is because the utilities have large retentions, often about $5 million. Claims and premiums are likely to go down for wind equipment.”

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Repair costs are also dropping, said Battenfield.

“An out-of-warranty blade set replacement can cost $300,000. But if it is repairable by a third party, it could cost as little as $30,000 to have a specialist in fiberglass do it in a few days.”

As that approach becomes more prevalent, business interruption (BI) coverage comes to the fore. Battenfield stressed that it is important for owners to understand their PPA obligations, as well as BI triggers and waiting periods.

“The BI challenge can be bigger than the property loss,” said Battenfield. “It is important that coverage dovetails into the operator’s contractual obligations.” &

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.