Dec 6, 2021 - Economy

A big part of America's supply chain is for sale

A truck with an $100 bill speeding away

Illustration: Allie Carl, Sarah Grillo/Axios

America's supply chain crisis is a series of intersecting bottlenecks, including insufficient labor and warehouse space, all driven by surging U.S. consumer behavior. But one piece has gotten short-shift on the attention meter: Chassis, the steel frames on which trucks carry shipping containers.

Driving the news: Apollo Global Management is seeking a buyer for Direct ChassisLink, the largest U.S. intermodal chassis provider, as first reported by Bloomberg and confirmed by Axios.

Why it matters: Direct ChassisLink has an enormous amount of market power right now.

  • Part of this is the supply chain crisis, which has caused thousands of chassis to sit idle, beneath containers waiting to be emptied.
  • Part of it relates to massive U.S. tariffs on China-made chassis, begun under Trump and increased under Biden. Much of that manufacturing has moved to other Asian countries like Vietnam and Taiwan, plus some stateside, but the disruption took a toll. In short, existing supply is more valuable when prices of new supply goes up.
  • Sources familiar with the Charlotte-based company argue that it hasn't raised prices commensurate with freight shippers or warehouse operators, and that it plans to add between 10,000 and 15,000 new chassis over the next 12 months. But don't be surprised if the next owner seeks higher prices for the next long-term contracts it signs, both with new and returning customers (in part to offset big new CapEx requirements).

History: Direct ChassisLink has been something of a private equity hot potato over the past decade. Littlejohn & Co. carved it out of Danish shipping giant Maersk in 2012, and then sold it to EQT in 2016. Apollo took majority control three years later for $2.5 billion, with EQT retaining around a 20% stake.

The bottom line: Chassis are a vital part of America's supply chain, and the most influential chassis player could soon have a new owner.

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