Supply Chain Matters has highlighted some percolating supplier weak links among commercial aerospace supply chains from either financial, operational or product quality perspectives. Certain key suppliers such as Pratt and Whitney have provided signs of such industry concern. Now, broader industry visibility to engine producer Rolls Royce is likely added.
This week, Rolls Royce reported financial and operational performance for the December-ending quarter and the headline was a $5 billion annual loss driven by a corruption scandal and negative currency factors, along with signs of premature engine component failures.
Recall that this manufacturer is a prime supplier of aircraft engines for the newest models of wide body, longer distance aircraft such as the Airbus A350 XWB and A330 aircraft and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
The reported annualized loss in the latest year reflects a large, noncash accounting charge from the revaluation of U.S. currency hedges after the British pound slumped. It further includes a £671 million one-time charge for bribery settlements with U.S., British and Brazilian authorities after the company admitted to illegal business practices spanning decades. Operating pre-tax profitability fell for a third year to £813 million from £1.43 billion a year earlier. Total revenues declined 2 percent to £13.4 billion. Chief Executive Warren East indicated to shareholders and analysts that 2017 will provide another challenging year. Shareholders responded with a reported 5 percent decline in the company’s stock value.
The UK based company has now undertaken a corporate-wide restructuring that unfortunately includes the shedding of positions. A reported 600 manager positions are being eliminated along with upwards of 2,600 job losses in the aerospace division. About 1,800 jobs are further reported as being eliminated in the ship-engine group. The company is forecasting annual savings starting at the end of this year of around £200 million as a result of such efforts.
Further, according to business media reporting, the company is preparing for the introduction of new accounting standards that will impact the reporting of near-term profitability. Rolls-Royce typically sells aircraft engines at a loss and makes up revenues during the operating phase through various pay by the hour servicing contracts with airline operators. The company buffers the early losses by booking some of the assured services revenue early. Under new accounting rules, such losses reportedly will need to be reflected immediately, while services revenue should be accounted for as-delivered.
According to reporting by The Wall Street Journal, costs associated with the Trent 1000 engines used to power Boeing Dreamliner’s have also risen as a result of turbine components degrading prematurely. Other problems include weakness in its business in equipping engines for the regional and business jet sectors where Rolls-Royce is losing ground to rivals.
Thus, as the commercial aerospace industry now enters its next industry inflection point, with overall airline order demand for larger, wide-body aircraft is now showing signs of contraction, a potential supplier weak link is likely added. An added irony is that Rolls can likely benefit from added automation of manufacturing and supply chain business processes along with the more leveraged use of advanced technology in areas such as improved sensing of key component operating performance parameters in its engines. Such investments can be difficult when shareholder eyes are focused on near-term profitability.
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