Waiting outside the mall at midnight on Black Friday is so 20th century — and that’s great news for delivery giants UPS (NYSE:UPS) and FedEx (NYSE:FDX). Although brick-and-mortar sales on the year’s biggest shopping day rose by 6.6%, millions of shoppers bailed on the post-Thanksgiving ritual of mall hopping to take to the web — dropping a whopping $816 billion last Friday alone, according to the research firm comScore.
That 26% increase over last year is great news not only for e-tailers, who expect a record-breaking Cyber Monday “Deal Week,” but the UPS-FedEx duopoly as well. Both companies are banking on e-commerce to drive up their delivery volumes — and profits — this season.
Because FedEx and UPS cater to a time-sensitive delivery market, shippers have few competitive alternatives. Rail and traditional trucking companies can’t compete with the two package firms on fast shipping. And the U.S. Postal Service, which has lost $13.5 billion since the beginning of 2010 and is by all accounts in the death spiral to bankruptcy, is unlikely to rise from the ashes by offering e-mail and document storage.
UPS and FedEx appear confident — both will raise delivery rates by about 5% for 2012.
But in the race for holiday season supremacy, which company is best positioned to win the day? And how will those prospects impact their stock? Here’s how FedEx and UPS stack up in five key areas:
UPS ended 2010 with $49.5 billion in revenue, about $3.5 billion in profit, more than 400,000 employees and a delivery fleet of close to 100,000 vehicles and 266 cargo jets. The company makes an average of 15.6 million shipments a day.
FedEx, whose fiscal 2011 ended on May 31, had $39.3 billion in revenue, nearly $2.4 billion in profit, about 290,000 employees and a delivery fleet of about 43,000 and 654 cargo jets. FDX delivers an average of 3.6 million shipments a day.
When UPS’ international volume spiked in the third quarter of 2010, Brown expanded capacity substantially to seize the opportunity. When global shipping volume slumped, UPS scrambled to ground planes and reduce excess capacity — particularly in Asia. That weighed on margins.
FDX’s Express unit got hammered in the quarter as frugal shippers cut back on premium delivery expenses. U.S. domestic volume alone fell 3%; combined with the global slowdown, operating income fell 19% to $288 million in the quarter.
Edge: Toss-up. UPS’ fate depends on how fast Asia rebounds; FDX must find a way to recover premium U.S. domestic volumes.
UPS’ biggest opportunity is in using its high-tech logistics systems and processes to cash in on global supply chain growth. Europe remains a key target despite the continent’s current uncertainty — the company’s $200 million expansion of its Cologne air hub will boost capacity by more than 70%. Brown could strengthen its position by acquiring Dutch delivery and logistics firm TNT Express, which has lost half its market value since May, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Strong FedEx Ground performance and rebounding fortunes in the company’s freight segment helped offset lower premium package volume, although less-than-truckload (LTL) operations remain in the doldrums. FedEx could benefit from a TNT acquisition too, but earlier this year it said TNT was “too expensive.” USPS’ loss might be FedEx’s gain — its SmartPost service already transports less time-sensitive parcels to hubs, with the postal service providing local delivery.
Edge: Toss-up. The longer-term outlook is brighter for UPS’ international strategy, but Europe could eat Brown’s lunch. And don’t even think about the impact of a euro collapse.