Stanford Research advisory: strategic spot trading benefits supply chains

Supply chains—i.e., the string of players involved in making goods, extending from the procurement of raw materials to the end product—traditionally operate with gross inefficiencies resulting from what they don't know. 


Supply chains—i.e., the string of players involved in making goods, extending from the procurement of raw materials to the end product—traditionally operate with gross inefficiencies resulting from what they don't know.
A recent study by Stanford's Graduate School of Business should help supply chain managers make better decisions. The model studied by Haim Mendelson and Tunay Tunca indicates that by strategically using both fixed-price contracts and open market trading, supply chain participants can generate greater efficiencies. Both consumers and the supply chain as a whole will benefit from these efficiencies, but companies that make up the supply chain also need to go through a careful analysis to determine whether they will profit.
In industries ranging from agriculture to electronics components, manufacturers and suppliers make long-term purchasing contracts months and sometimes years in advance—long before they know what end-consumer demand or their own costs will be. Given that availability, costs of raw materials and consumer tastes fluctuate, Both parties sometimes supplement contracts with shorter-term spot trading to take care of these changes.
Information technology reduces the cost of putting together spot markets, which resemble a stock exchange where suppliers and even manufacturers with surpluses trade goods all over the world in a freewheeling, frequently electronic environment.
"The use of electronic markets for business-to-business [B2B] trading allows market participants to learn what's going on in the marketplace in terms of supply and demand, even if they don't have that information firsthand," claims Stanford's Mendelson.
Just as the stock market summarizes many pieces of information about the performance of a company, B2B spot markets deliver up-to-date information about the availability of raw materials, the cost of production, and consumer demand for the end product. Because all of this happens much closer to the time that the end product ships to the consumer, supply chain participants can update their plans to take into account real-time information.
If spot trading provides better information to supply chain players, why not dispense with fixed-price contracts altogether? Research indicates open markets also have their drawbacks.
"The more you trade, the more you drive the price against yourself," says Tunca, an assistant professor of operations, information, and technology. A manufacturer may want to buy 10,000 computer chips at $1 per chip. But trying to buy twice that amount may force the manufacturer to pay more per chip, as cheaper supplies will be exhausted. So buying only in the on-the-spot market raises the risk that you're going to spend more than you would have in a fixed-price contract made six months ago. On the other hand, you have a better idea of actual need, and may end up spending less by not overbuying. Suppliers face similar risks and benefits, and may benefit from both early contracts and spot-market trading.
What, then, is the best balance between long-term contracting and using the spot market for supply chain players?
Mendelson and Tunca believe the key is determining how liquid the spot market is in any given industry—i.e., how freely goods can be traded without driving prices up or down against the players themselves. "You have to carefully assess the liquidity of the market before you jump on the spot-trading bandwagon," Mendelson says.
The researchers calculated a spot-market liquidity measure that incorporates demand and cost information and helps determine how efficiently the supply chain will function as a whole with spot trading. The study finds that markets tend to be more liquid where consumer demands are more certain, demand forecasts are less noisy, or there are many market players. The high-end computer chip markets tend to be less liquid, for example, because sellers are relatively scarce. Alternately, the large number of buyers and sellers in the oil market make it more liquid.
"Where the liquidity measure is very good, the supply chain operates like a well-oiled machine," says Tunca. "It is agile in reacting to new information. A liquid spot market also stimulates production. Where the liquidity measure is bad, there is more friction in the supply chain, information is not used well, and goods are sold almost exclusively through long-term contracts."
In industries with liquid markets, the researchers advise, manufacturers and suppliers should leave more of the purchasing for the open market. In industries with illiquid markets, they should do more of their purchases through fixed-price contracts early on. But in all cases, both are needed. No matter how efficient electronic spot markets can be, there will be a role for long-term contracting.
In tying together the effects of information and liquidity on supply chain performance, Mendelson and Tunca have established a novel way of thinking about industrial spot markets. A good spot market, their study reveals, creates efficiencies not only in the spot market itself, but also reaching back to the long-term contract stage.
"Suppliers will anticipate that a well-functioning spot market is coming up—where information about supply and demand is current—and so will price more competitively early on," Mendelson says. This makes the supply chain more efficient and increases the total profit of the businesses that constitute the supply chain. At the same time, consumers also benefit because a more efficient supply chain translates into lower retail prices.
But the good is not always good for everyone: In some markets, the spot market makes manufacturers better off at the expense of suppliers, whereas in some other markets suppliers gain the upper hand. Supply chain participants have to carefully analyze the impact the spot market will have on their own profit.

No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
The System Integrator Giants program lists the top 100 system integrators among companies listed in CFE Media's Global System Integrator Database.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
This eGuide illustrates solutions, applications and benefits of machine vision systems.
Learn how to increase device reliability in harsh environments and decrease unplanned system downtime.
This eGuide contains a series of articles and videos that considers theoretical and practical; immediate needs and a look into the future.
Make Big Data and Industrial Internet of Things work for you, 2017 Engineers' Choice Finalists, Avoid control design pitfalls, Managing IIoT processes
Engineering Leaders Under 40; System integration improving packaging operation; Process sensing; PID velocity; Cybersecurity and functional safety
Mobile HMI; PID tuning tips; Mechatronics; Intelligent project management; Cybersecurity in Russia; Engineering education; Road to IANA
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.

Find and connect with the most suitable service provider for your unique application. Start searching the Global System Integrator Database Now!

SCADA at the junction, Managing risk through maintenance, Moving at the speed of data
Flexible offshore fire protection; Big Data's impact on operations; Bridging the skills gap; Identifying security risks
The digital oilfield: Utilizing Big Data can yield big savings; Virtualization a real solution; Tracking SIS performance
click me