Sunday, January 29, 2012

EMD CEO's talk fails to mention London

"Money-losing" EMD expanded operations in China. Progress Rail CEO Billy Ainsworth shown.

Recently, I saw this tweet on Twitter:

Here's a link to The London Free Press column.

It's a nice thought. Larry Cornies, and others like him, should hold onto such nice thoughts, but they don't have to hold on too tightly. Those thoughts, and others like them, aren't going anywhere soon.

Maybe my expectations in situations like the EMD lockout have been soured by own experience working for a big, anti-union business – Quebecor – but I don't believe the Caterpillar representatives want to sit down with the London workers.

The Cornies tweet was followed by one by late2game pointing out that although Caterpillar is well into the black as a corporation, its EMD subsidiary is a drain on the big Cat. Late2game linked to a source reporting EMD lost $16 million. Cornies replied to late2game: "Thanks; that's detail I was looking for before deadline Thursday, but couldn't find. Confirms my suspicions."

In a lockout situation, I have a hard time confirming anything in my own mind. I'm very distrustful of everyone involved. I'm especially distrustful of all the facts surrounding the crisis. The bargaining is no longer being done at the table but on the street, in the media.

As a long time investor, I'm well aware that money losing companies can be damn fine investments. I'm not saying the books are cooked, they aren't, but the bottom line is not the whole story. If a company is investing a lot of money to grow future profits, the present may suffer. This does not mean the company is in trouble, especially if it is a subsidiary of a much larger company – one with very deep pockets, like Caterpillar.

John Hamilton, Electro-Motive Diesel CEO, has made great strides in growing the once faltering operation. I don't believe that EMD, once the little engine that could, is now the little engine that couldn't (turn a profit).

In London, we like to think of EMD as having its headquarters and some production facilities in La Grange, Illinois and its assembly plant in London, Ontario – and that's it. Well, a few years ago that was sort of true, but not today. (The production is actually in McCook, Illinois, just outside of La Grange.)

Today's EMD is not the company it was when it opened its London, Ontario, plant. EMD today:

  • has opened a 740,000 sq. ft. assembly plant in Muncie, Indiana – that's far larger than the older, London, Ontario EMD facility.
  • is expanding and modernizing an existing manufacturing plant in Sete Lagoas, Minas Gerais, Brazil to assemble and manufacture Electro-Motive Diesel-branded locomotives
  • is producing EMD labelled locomotives at the Ciudad SahagĂșn Bombardier plant in Mexico.
  • is hoping to produce locomotives in the near future in India.
  • has opened a facility in San Luis Potosi, Mexico for traction motor maintenance and locomotive overhaul work.
  • is opening multiple warehouse operations in northeastern China supporting a growing fleet of 6000-horsepower EMD. The complete assembly of locomotives for the Chinese market is envisioned.
  • and the list goes on

According to the Wall Street Journal, EMD recorded $1.8 billion in global sales in 2008-09, making it one of the largest builders of diesel-electric locomotives in the world. Is EMD losing money? If it is, the management of EMD is incompetent and I don't think EMD management is incompetent. I doubt EMD is in financial trouble. The red $16 million dollar bottom-line number is nothing to be concerned about.

When EMD president and CEO John S. Hamilton appeared before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Hearing, on April 20, 2010, he bragged a great deal but he never got around to mentioning London.

"EMD was a floundering subsidiary of GM, with a very questionable future. Today, EMD has witnessed record revenues, earnings, and investments. Exports have doubled. Factory productivity is up 20 percent," he boasted.

He continued, "Over the last two years, our exports to India and China were over 50 times greater than our imports from those two countries. Few, if any, large heavy manufacturing companies can say that. We estimate that in our five years as an independent company, we have single-handedly improved the United States trade balance by $200M."

"We employ 1,600 workers in the U.S.," he said.

Concerning high speed rail, he said, if given the chance EMD "would make most all of the critical technologies [in McCook, Illinois]. We have the equipment. We have 1,600 American workers ready to do this work and we would recall workers currently on lay-off to meet the additional workload. In accordance with Buy America, we announced last week a search for a facility in which to perform final assembly. [This would be the Muncie plant that is now in limited operation.]

EMD is a company on the move. And everything indicates that their next big move will be to move out of London. [Shortly after writing this, Progress Rail and EMD announced the closure of the London plant. EMD moved out of London.]

Buy America Act

The Buy America Act was a provision of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 and is now codified by Section 5323(j) of Title 49 of the United States Code. Buy America provisions are applied to transit-related procurements valued over US$100,000, for which funding includes grants administered by the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) or Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Buy America provisions are a condition of U.S. federal government grants to state, municipal or other organizations including transit authorities. Buy America provisions, such as requirements for 100% U.S. content for iron/steel and manufactured products, put Canadian goods and services at a serious disadvantage when they form all or part of a bid by any supplier, whether U.S. or Canadian. Similar conditions prevail for airport projects that receive funds from the Federal Aviation Administration as authorized by the Airport and Airways Facilities Improvement Act. Such projects require that all steel and manufactured products have 60% U.S. content and that final assembly occur in the United States.

Note: Under NAFTA, the U.S. requires that Canadian goods and suppliers be exempt from these requirements if certain demands are met. That said, applying the exemptions can be messy and convoluted. Don't think for a minute that NAFTA provides simple protection for producers such as Electro Motive Diesel in London.


  1. I don't disagree with much of what you've said here, Ken. For all the union bluster and condemnation about the enormous greed of Caterpillar, it is doing what all large corporations are required to do in law: act in their own self interest. If @late2game is right (and the supporting document appears to prove him so) then the London workers have a huge obstacle in their path: They happen to work for a money-losing division within a large, profitable multinational corporation. National, provincial and local union leaders are being considerably less than honest with the public on that score, which makes my suggestion of concrete action through some type of high-powered intervention and assistance — much more concrete and useful than just a "nice thought" — all the more urgent.

  2. As is so often the case, Larry states the other side's argument very succinctly -- Caterpillar is doing what it is required to do in law: act in its own self interest. Are they? There is another approach, one espoused by professors at business schools and by law professors, this topic is worth a proper post. Society has to confront this issue, and will at some time be forced to do so if it is not done by choice.

  3. It is interesting to note that my blog was posted Jan. 28. The London EMD plant was closed February 3rd. The company refused to reopen negotiations.