January 15, 2020

Buyout specialist XPO looks to sell off "one or more" business units

Move is intended to boost stock price, would not include its North American less-than-truckload (LTL) unit, firm says.

By DC Velocity Staff

XPO Logistics Inc., the sprawling transport and logistics company that has based its quick ascent in the sector through a series of high-profile acquisitions, is now looking to unwind some of those moves by selling or spinning off "one or more" of its business units, the company said today.

Greenwich, Connecticut-based XPO said it has not set a timetable for completion of the review process and has not determined which, if any, business units would be sold or spun off. However, the company does not intend to sell or spin off its North American less-than-truckload (LTL) unit.

The possible move would be intended to "enhance shareholder value," asserting that the stock prices of individual business units would be greater split up than combined, Bradley Jacobs, chairman and chief executive officer of XPO Logistics, said in a statement.

"XPO is the 7th best-performing stock of the last decade on the Fortune 500, based on Bloomberg market data. The share price has increased more than ten-fold since our investment in 2011," Jacobs said in a release. "Still, we continue to trade at well below the sum of our parts and at a significant discount to our pure-play peers. That's why we believe the best way to continue to maximize shareholder value is to explore our options, while remaining intensely committed to the satisfaction of our customers and employees."

The company defines itself as a network of people, technology, and physical assets in 30 countries, with 1,531 locations and approximately 100,000 employees. XPO says it helps more than 50,000 customers manage their goods most efficiently throughout their supply chains. Much of that growth has been driven by XPO's string of buyouts, including two giant targets in 2015 alone: the Michigan-based trucking and logistics provider Con-way Inc. for $3 billion and French transport and logistics giant Norbert Dentressangle S.A. for $3.5 billion.

Just two years ago, XPO was still on the lookout for new mergers and acquisitions, and even poached a top transportation and logistics executive from amazon.com Inc., naming Kenneth Wagers as XPO's new chief operating officer "in anticipation of significant M&A activity."

However, that move turned sour when XPO quickly lost its "largest customer"—widely assumed to be Amazon itself—which presumably withdrew its valuable business in a move of retribution. In short order, XPO missed its earnings target in the fourth quarter of 2018, and announced it would dial back its M&A plans, invest in a conservative stock buyback plan, and release its prize COO.

The swift swing in strategy occurred at the same time that the nationwide freight market was undergoing its most turbulent changes in a decade. A long-feared driver shortage peaked in in 2018 and the first half of 2019, pushing trucking rates up to historic highs as shippers scrambled to expand their budgets. Many truck fleets responded by increasing driver wages and buying new vehicles, a reaction that pushed excess capacity into the sector and pulled the rug out from towering freight rates. When the bottom dropped out, dozens of fleets went bankrupt by the end of 2019.

Nursing their wounds from that wild ride, many fleets are still cautious about the 2020 business climate, especially as rollicking trade wars, a global manufacturing slowdown, and a U.S. presidential election year make 2020 hard to forecast, analysts say.

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