Steps by Ryder System (NYSE: R) to increase the valuation of its used truck inventory, and to get the size of that pool under control, are starting to catch up with the company’s goals.
That’s one of the messages that came out of two recent presentations by Ryder CEO Robert Sanchez: last week after the company released its fourth-quarter earnings and on Wednesday, when Sanchez presented via video link to the Citi Industrials Conference.
Sanchez, on the earnings call, said Ryder is now selling used trucks above the value of the residuals it set for the fleet after earlier writedowns, some of which could easily be described as steep. Tractor sales in the fourth quarter were “still slightly below” the levels the company has established in its accounting, he said.
On the earnings call, CFO Scott Parker laid out the numbers on just how much improved the used truck and tractor market has been for Ryder. Year-over-year, revenue from sales were up 15% for tractors and 22% for trucks. There was also a big jump from the prior quarter, with tractor proceeds up 13% and truck proceeds up 16%.
“Higher sales proceeds primarily reflect improved market pricing and to a lesser extent a higher mix of vehicles sold through our retail channels,” Parker said on the earnings call, according to a transcript supplied by SeekingAlpha.
More importantly, the prices that Ryder is receiving are at a level that will enable it to keep its projected residual levels in place. Parker said Ryder earlier had said that in the U.S. market, the company by 2022 needed a 10% price increase for used trucks and a 30% increase for tractors to hold those levels. Since the second quarter, Parker said, revenue from truck sales is up 20% and tractors are up 24%. Ryder is there on trucks, if it holds, and is getting there on tractors.
The volumes being sold by Ryder also have increased. Parker, in his earnings call remarks, said Ryder sold 7,000 used vehicles in the fourth quarter, up 17% year on year. Another important benchmark is the number of vehicles that the company has for resale. At the end of the quarter, that stood at 7,700, “squarely within our target range of 7,000 to 9,000 vehicles.”
That number is starting to push toward a 50% drop from where the used vehicle inventory stood at the end of the second quarter, when it totaled 14,000.
In his remarks to the Citi conference, Sanchez echoed what Parker said about selling more vehicles through retail channels as aiding Ryder’s efforts at securing higher prices for its used fleet. He said Ryder was selling 25% more vehicles through retail outlets than last year, and that the company also has a much larger inside sales effort. “We can retail more and wholesale less,” he said. “I feel really good about the way the market is moving.”
Things aren’t so good that Ryder is considering raising the value of its used vehicles, Sanchez said on the earnings call in response to an analyst question. He said the company’s current estimates “are in a good place right now, especially where we’re seeing the market.”
In other issues addressed at the Citi conference:
— Sanchez was asked how Ryder might eventually account for the residual value of any electric vehicles in its fleet. That was a problem for the future, he said, because the market is probably five to 10 years away from an electric truck or tractor being added to the Ryder fleet, “and then it’s five to 10 years before it is a used truck.”
— The Ryder CEO talked about the creativity of the owner-operators who buy used tractors, whether they are individual proprietors or running a small fleet of five vehicles or less. Owner-operators are a “meaningful part of the used truck market,” and that part of the market is facing “headwinds,” Sanchez said. “But no matter what, they always find a way to stay in business, grow and find new markets.”
— The volatility in the used truck market can trace itself all the way back to the Great Recession, Sanchez said. That period resulted in a significant drop in new truck purchases, but was followed by what he described as “big technology changes” in trucks — including the addition of automatic transmission — and “you went from nothing in used trucks to suddenly lots being available.” “It was a perfect storm that I don’t expect to recur,” he said. “But there will always be cyclicality.”
— Sanchez has spelled out a strategy for Ryder in which its Fleet Management Services division would shrink as a share of the company, down from a current level of about 60% to 50%, with the company’s Dedicated and Supply Chain Solutions taking up the other 50%, up from the current 40%. The Dedicated division’s fortunes are aided by tightness in driver availability, Sanchez said. For example, the Dedicated group’s growth slowed in 2019 when driver pay was stable to weak. A year later, when driver pay was rising to levels more akin to the 2018 surge, “it started to pick up at the end of 2020.” With driver pay still an issue and not fading anytime soon, Sanchez said Ryder’s Dedicated division is “really accelerating in terms of top-line growth.” He added that Ryder expects the business will end 2021 with “high-single-digit growth.”
And while driver pay is obviously an issue for Ryder’s Dedicated division, because it needs to hire the drivers to staff it, Sanchez said the company has an advantage: The drivers are usually wearing the uniform or clothing of the company that hired Ryder’s Dedicated division.
“If we need driver wages to increase, we can go back to the customers and negotiate that with them,” Sanchez said. Since the driver would be a Ryder employee but effectively working for the client, they are “well known by the customers, they wear the logo on their uniform and they are part of the operation.”
If they’re doing a good job, Sanchez said, “the customer wants to keep that driver and they become part of the story.” That makes it far easier to negotiate a pay increase with the customer to retain the driver.