By Paul Page
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The third leg of the shipping industry's alliance structure is built, but it's not necessarily complete. Operator including Germany's Hapag-Lloyd AG, South Korea's Hanjin Shipping Co., Taiwan's Yang Ming Marine Transport Corp. and Japan's big three container ship lines have agreed to form a new alliance in what the carriers believe is a necessary step to match up to the dominance of the world's biggest operators, the WSJ's In-Soo Nam and Costas Paris report. Left out of this grouping is Hyundai Merchant Marine Co., but that's not the final word. "The door is still open to us," says a spokesman at the Korean carrier, which will likely join once it completes its debt restructuring. Experts say ocean carriers can't afford to sit out the industry's alliance dance. The biggest container shipping lines, including Maersk Line and Mediterranean Shipping Co., have already struck tie-ups, and smaller carriers will fall far behind the industry's cost structure without partners to share vessel operations.
The era of perpetual growth for companies in Apple Inc.'s supply chain may be over. The electronics giant's falling sales are reverberating across Asia, with iPhone component makers reporting weak earnings and issuing cautious forecasts amid a broader downturn in the smartphone business, the WSJ's Eva Dou reports. Among the big suppliers, iPhone assembler Foxconn Technology Group reported a 9.2% drop in first-quarter net profit and another assembler, Taiwan-based Pegatron Corp., showed a 35.1% plunge in profit. Others, including screen providers and sensor makers, also are reporting steep declines. The bigger concern is the future: market research firm IDC says global smartphone sales will grow only 5.7% this year, far below recent norms. Supply chains will contract to meet the smaller market growth, cutting into the movement of goods from components to the distribution of finished products.
Tensions between Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd. and big-brand sellers appear to be growing even as the Chinese e-commerce giant makes moves aimed at burnishing its anticounterfeiting credentials. Tiffany & Co. became the latest high-profile brand to resign from one of the world's largest anticounterfeiting groups amid a controversy in the retail world over Alibaba's admission into the alliance, the WSJ's Kathy Chu reports. The withdrawals highlight the high stakes Alibaba has in its efforts to stave off charges that it is soft on counterfeiting. Alibaba says it joined the Washington, D.C.-based International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition to work more closely with sellers in booting fraudulent selling from its marketplaces. Gucci and Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. say Alibaba's actions amount to little, however, and fake goods remain a major concern. The challenge for Alibaba as it expands internationally will be how to raise the bar against counterfeits while delivering seamless selling and distribution.
A bitter supplier dispute at the center of Aéropostale Inc.'s bankruptcy filing is ending, along with the retailer's once-close relationship with one of its biggest clothing providers. The teen-apparel seller reached a settlement with MGF Sourcing that will bring Aéropostale the inventory the retailer had already ordered while cutting short a 10-year supplier deal, the WSJ's Lillian Rizzo reports. The fracturing of the Aéropostale tie-in with MGV stands as a kind of warning sign for businesses that build up very close working ties between suppliers and sellers. In this case, MGF's owner, private equity firm Sycamore Partners, was also Aéropostale's biggest lender. Sycamore and MGF will retreat from the Aéropostale business once the disputed clothing is delivered and payments made. That will leave Aéropostale to focus on the online competition and changing teen tastes that will figure in the company's long-term future.
The flowering of a new generation of ocean shipping alliances is raising new questions for regulators around the world. In a Guest Voices commentary, maritime industry expert Olaf Merk writes that authorities should look beyond the basic competition for shipping customers as they examine the Ocean Alliance and the nascent agreement being forged by other operators. Mr. Merk writes that a focus on ocean freight rates gives a misleading view of the impact of the alliances, which he notes have "enormous buying power" and sway over ports and decisions on infrastructure investment. Regulators will have time to consider the impact of the alliances: the Ocean Alliance, put together in part to make more efficient use of so-called megaships, is still nearly a year from launch. And the following group of up to eight carriers would likely take until later in 2017 to start operations.
IN OTHER NEWS
Initial weekly jobless claims in the U.S. climbed to the highest level in 14 months. (WSJ)
A global oversupply of crude is shrinking despite faster growth than expected in Iran's oil production, the International Energy Agency says. (WSJ)
Sharp Corp. announced sweeping management changes and more job cuts as part of the takeover of the electronics giant by Taiwan's Foxconn. (WSJ)
Germany's Bayer AG and BASF SE are reportedly considering rival bids to acquire U.S. agriculture giant Monsanto Co. (WSJ)
Analysts believe Amazon's growth, particularly its move into apparel sales, is behind recent losses reported by department store operators. (WSJ) .
China plans to pump more than $700 billion into transport infrastructure spending as part of its continuing economic stimulus efforts. (Financial Times)
Nike Inc. plans to double production of its athletic wear while reducing the number of factories it works with and cutting its environmental impact. (Portland Oregonian)
Delta Apparel Co. will close its textile manufacturing operation in Maiden, N.C., and move production to Honduras. (Sourcing Journal)
A South African startup is testing the use of drones to scan goods in warehouses to improve inventory management. (CNN)
China's COSCO Pacific Ltd. boosted its interest in European ports with a one-third stake in the Port of Rotterdam's Euromax container terminal. (Caixin)
Sweden-based investment fund EQT Infrastructure II Fund will buy intermodal chassis equipment provider Direct ChassisLink Inc. (Transport Topics)
Amazon.com Inc. added package tracking to its voice-powered digital assistant, Alexa. (Seattle Times)
APM Terminals will weigh containers under the verified gross mass rules at 29 ports around the world, although not at its U.S. operations. (Container Management)
Air Transport Services Group Inc. is putting off its plans to launch a joint-venture express cargo operation in China until next year. (The Loadstar)
Lufthansa Cargo and Cathay Pacific will run joint freight operations between Hong Kong and Europe. (Lloyd's Loading List)
Kansas City Southern Co. named Patrick Ottensmeyer to succeed David Starling as chief executive. (Railway Age)
Paul Page is deputy editor of WSJ Logistics Report. Follow him at @PaulPage, and follow the entire WSJ Logistics Report team: @brianjbaskin, @lorettachao, @RWhelanWSJ and @EEPhillips_WSJ, and follow the WSJ Logistics Report on Twitter at @WSJLogistics.
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