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CanadaCompany earningsNewsParcel

UPS CEO calls sale of UPS Freight to TFI a ‘win-win’

Tomé says the asset will now be in the hands of a company that really wants it

UPS Inc.’s (NYSE:UPS) sale of its less-than-truckload business, UPS Freight, to Canadian firm TFI International Inc. (NYSE and TSE: TFII) works out well for both parties as it relieves UPS of a noncore, low-margin asset and puts the business in the hands of a more freight-centric carrier, UPS CEO Carol Tomé said Tuesday.

The $800 million all-cash deal, which was announced last week, is expected to close at the start of the second quarter, Tomé (pictured) told analysts on a conference call Tuesday to discuss UPS’ fourth-quarter and full-year results. UPS will use the proceeds to pay down debt, she said. Montreal-based TFI will rebrand the unit as TForce Freight. UPS will sell the new TFI service for no less than five years and will provide back-office services for three years. All 14,500 UPS Freight employees, including 11,500 Teamsters union members, will join TFI.

Tomé said she made the disposal of UPS Freight a top priority as soon as she started the job on June 1. Tomé, who was named to UPS’ board in 2003, watched as UPS acquired Overnite Transportation Co., the forerunner of UPS Freight, two years later for the then-lofty price of $1.25 billion, only to take an impairment charge shortly after the acquisition was completed.

“It’s never turned out to be what we thought it would be,” she said, referring to UPS Freight. “It’s a capital-intensive, low-margin business that we don’t need to own” to make money by offering an LTL solution to shippers, she said. 

Tomé said that UPS Freight employees should also be happy to join a company that’s more aligned with their interests than was UPS, a parcel-delivery-focused concern that positioned UPS Freight as a loss leader by offering cut-rate prices in exchange for more small-package business. 

“We couldn’t be happier” with the way the transaction turned out, Tomé said.

Her remarks came as the Atlanta-based package giant reported one of its most impressive quarters in years. The nation’s largest transportation company also reported all-time annual records for revenue at $84.2 billion and adjusted diluted earnings per share of $8.23. After adjustments and dilution, UPS posted a fourth-quarter gain of $2.66 a share, way above estimates that ranged between $2.10 and $2.20 a share. The adjusted EPS figures were 55 cents higher than the adjusted 2019 results, equating to a 26.1% year-on-year gain, Atlanta-based UPS said. 

On an adjusted basis, operating income rose 26% to $2.2 billion, the highest quarterly operating profit in the company’s 114-year history.

The 2020 adjustments included a $4.9 billion noncash charge for pension-related changes; a $545 million after-tax impairment change for selling UPS Freight; and a $114 million after-tax charge for UPS’ ongoing multiyear project to reengineer its massive distribution network to handle more business-to-consumer (B2C) traffic resulting from online orders. 

Fourth-quarter 2020 revenue rose 21% to $24.9 billion. The domestic package division was the upside standout, with domestic revenue up a surprising 17.7%, and operating margins up 8.8%, also higher than analysts had expected. U.S. domestic revenue per piece rose 7.8%, the highest growth  rate in more than 10 years. Ground revenue per piece increased by 11.2%. 

In what Tomé referred to as a “turning point” for the company’s finances, domestic package revenue grew faster than average daily volume during the fourth quarter, a pattern she said will continue into 2021. This bodes well for pricing and margin strength, she said.

UPS clearly benefited in the fourth quarter by a massive spike in peak-season online ordering, which by the end of the year had accounted for more than 20% of all U.S. retail sales. Tomé does not see much of a leveling off in 2021 because a broader swath of the U.S. population has become comfortable with and accustomed to e-commerce. This will continue to put pressure on capacity and push UPS to further optimize its network, she said. As a result, UPS will likely emphasize the higher-margin SMB segment and focus less on the big, high-volume customers that have long enjoyed favorable pricing conditions. 

This may include Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), which accounted for 13.3% of UPS’ 2020 revenues in 2020 and remains its largest single customer.

UPS shares closed the day Tuesday up more than 2.5% at $160.29 a share.

Mark Solomon

Formerly the Executive Editor at DC Velocity, Mark Solomon joined FreightWaves as Managing Editor of Freight Markets. Solomon began his journalistic career in 1982 at Traffic World magazine, ran his own public relations firm (Media Based Solutions) from 1994 to 2008, and has been at DC Velocity since then. Over the course of his career, Solomon has covered nearly the whole gamut of the transportation and logistics industry, including trucking, railroads, maritime, 3PLs, and regulatory issues. Solomon witnessed and narrated the rise of Amazon and XPO Logistics and the shift of the U.S. Postal Service from a mail-focused service to parcel, as well as the exponential, e-commerce-driven growth of warehouse square footage and omnichannel fulfillment.

18 Comments

  1. They sold the employees with uh e business with no option to go to small package. Modern day slavery. Decades with the company went to freight division and now can’t go back wow.

  2. Number 1, that 13.3% of the business they get from Amazon is going to dry up as Bezo’s are delivering their packages with their own drivers who they’re only paying 16 bucks an hour.

    Next , the CEO of TFI said that SAIA and CFI were the “ models “ of LTL and truckload “ while SAIA pays decent wages, I know very very few of their drivers and dock workers who actually like working there and they have a really high employee turnover rate. Yes they operate in the high 80’s to low 90’s bc they kill their own employees. I know a LOT of their drivers and they treat them horribly. I’ve heard horror stories of certain routes logging 200+ miles per day with nearly 25 stops and they get chewed out if they don’t get all of their pickups and deliveries made. There routing system is totally inefficient bc of the pressures on dock guys to empty the trailers and load the city units regardless if that speed causes the driver to back track all day long.

    His truckload example, CFI is the newest version of the likes of Tiger truck lines. Hire in student drivers with the to rate being under .50 per mile. So, his two examples seem to be a really bad omen for UPS Freight employees .

    Also, he talked about leasing our dock space. You can bet that within a couple of years you will start seeing customers who once used UPS for their 3 and 4 day lanes on some long haul outfits trailer at UPS docks bc it will be cheaper to use a 3rd party as opposed to their own company. Well…. that is until TFI has to negotiate the next contract where they will whine about a big drop in revenue as they start to demand givebacks from employees. Bottom line, unfortunately this is a bad day for all of my friends still at UPS. I worked for Overnite for 15 years. Then UPS for 4 years before I retired and you could see way back then that UPS had no clue how to run freight

  3. The great American sale out. Jobs arnt what they use to be. So much out source and damned.. all these corporate leaders think by dumping American jobs and call it a saving is not investing in America. Capitalism is another name for greed.. I curse Carol Tome for her decision..