By Bruce Davis
Tire Business staff
AKRONThe specter of elevated tariffs on consumer tires from China starting next year already is distorting the normal supply-and-demand relationship in the U.S. aftermarket as distributors have started stepping up their orders from China, Goodyear Chairman and CEO Rich Kra-mer told analysts Oct. 29 during a conference call.
As a result of what Mr. Kramer called an unprecedented wave of speculative buying, many distributors have purchased a considerable portion of their 2015 budget this year and now have stockpiles of low-end tires to sell.
He attributed at least some of this accelerated buying to the possibility of the tariffs being made retroactive to October of this year.
To get ahead of the impacts of the potential tariffs, he said, dealers and distributors increased their purchases of Chinese tires in multiples of their normal purchase volumes and made significant investments to build inventory.
As support for his contention, Mr. Kramer cited Rubber Manufacturers Association data showing that a 3-percent increase in industry tire shipments in the third quarter was driven by a 25-percent jump in imports from China.
When adjusted for those imports, we estimate that the industry demand for other tires would have declined about 4 percent in the quarter, he said.
Mr. Kramer explained the anomaly in part to provide context for Good-year's 4-percent drop in North American shipments.
He said the pre-buy activity ahead of tariffs being considered nowwhich won't occur until mid-2015is more significant than that which occurred ahead of the elevated tarifs that were implemented in September 2009.
Mr. Kramer also pointed out that the reported industry shipments are sell-in datathat is, industry to industryand that sell-out shipments to consumers are growing at about 1 to 2 percent this year, with similar growth expected in 2015 as well.
Although Goodyear does not prioritize sales at the low end of the market, Mr. Kramer said, Chinese imports do affect the Akron-based tire maker's sales since the increased shipments occupied an abnormal amount of physical inventory space at the expense of some of Goodyear's own mid-tier-branded products and because these shipments reduce customers' liquidity.
Faced with these distorted market conditions, Goodyear didn't vary from its stated strategy, he said.
...(W)e didn't chase unprofit-able volume and we're not in the business of making tires to sit in customers' warehouses for extended periods, and we didn't sell next year's tires at discounted prices today.
By sticking with its strategy, he added, Goodyear was able to deliver record segment operating income of $210 million in the third quarter, the second straight quarter with an operating margin of more than 10 percent, and improved the price mix vs. raw materials over that reported in the second quarter.
Mr. Kramer declined to speculate how elevated tariffs might impact aftermarket pricing.