Vertical integration: industries are stacking up in the face of supply chain disruptions

Tesla, says founder Elon Musk, is “absurdly vertically integrated”. He has a point. Tesla makes the machines that make its electric vehicles; its factories churn out the batteries that power them. Another joint Tesla EV and adjacent battery plant in Germany received approval this week. But Musk is not alone. Retailers, crypto and financial services are all stacking up their operations, securing more of the value chain and aiding procurement.

Ruptured supply chains over the past year have encouraged more companies to integrate. Frustrations over securing delivery slots prompted Loctek, a Chinese furniture manufacturer, to order its own $32mn ship earlier this year. Container shipping giant AP Moller-Maersk, which halted Russian deliveries this week, has recently unveiled $6bn worth of acquisitions in land-based logistics, undaunted by previous flops. American Eagle Outfitters, the preppy apparel purveyor, last year snapped up delivery start-up AirTerra and Quiet Logistics, which does ecommerce fulfilment.

Ideally, an end-to-end delivery solution for exporters or a more seamless delivery for consumers helps customers. Retailers look to replicate Amazon’s success. They gain full control over deliveries and, ultimately, sell logistics services to third parties.

Tech is one industry adopting a spoke style of vertical integration to keep audiences engaged. Think super apps. PKO Bank Polski, Poland’s biggest bank, which provides a suite of financing and other car-leasing services, launched an online sales platform for used and new cars. Other traditional banks segue into cryptocurrencies, underpinned by blockchain or other infrastructure also applicable in areas such as trade finance.

For sure, risks attach. Perhaps the biggest is regulatory. Amazon discovered this when it came under scrutiny for prioritising merchants that used its services, putting others at a disadvantage. Competition watchdogs rightly fret about excessive market power.

Certain businesses can also drag on earnings, especially those involving hardware; hence Worldline’s move to ditch its terminals business. Still, more not less vertical integration will follow. As a corollary to the break-up of remaining conglomerates such as GE and Toshiba, vertical stacking fits with a de-globalising world.

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