By Paul Page
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Blockchain technology is getting a real-world test in the supply chain of one of the world's biggest goods shippers. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is preparing a pilot project in early 2017 to use blockchain to track a segment of its produce business in the U.S. along with its pork shipments in China, the WSJ"s Kim S. Nash reports. The project is a major test of blockchain distributed ledgers outside the financial services industry into supply-chain management, where companies want to digitize hand-offs between trading partners that are often managed in paper files and subject to delays and errors. Wal-Mart's Frank Yiannas says the high-volume product categories the retailer has tabbed for the pilot will quickly give Wal-Mart a sense of how blockchain works and how well it scales. Wal-Mart's big role as a buyer suggests that successful results could jumpstart the use of blockchain well beyond the retailer's own distribution channels.
General Motors Co. is responding to a decline in demand for passenger cars by cutting into production. The auto maker will shut four U.S. assembly plants for up to three weeks next month, the WSJ's Mike Colias reports, as it copes with swollen inventories. The nation's largest auto maker by volume entered December with about 873,000 vehicles on dealer lots, 26% more than last year, underscoring the slowing pace of car sales in the U.S.. It's also a sign of shifting buying patterns among consumers: through November, U.S. passenger-car sales slid 8%, while sales of crossover SUVs, pickups and other light trucks rose 7%, according to Autodata Corp., a change that will ripple across supply chains for auto components as more manufacturers adjust to the market. The new moves are a big concern for GM-watchers, however, because the company tended toward elevated inventory levels before its 2009 bankruptcy and now is coping with a similar problem.
The cattle industry may return to a one-time market staple to get a better understanding of supply and demand: live auctions. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange is considering reviving the auctions as a way to tame unruly trading of cattle futures, the WSJ's Kelsey Gee reports, by bringing better and timelier data on pricing to the business. The exchange is responding to an apparent breakdown in the$13 billion market, with values of cattle futures contracts swinging wildly this year from near-record highs to six-year lows. The idea is to base futures contracts, which ranchers use as a form of insurance on their borrowings to feed hundreds or thousands of animals at a time, on real trade data. The exchange also is looking at using a new index to guide pricing of futures contracts, an idea that some ranchers fear could make the market volatility even worse and take away one option for settling futures contracts -- delivering actual cattle to the traders.
SUPPLY CHAIN STRATEGIES
New retailer inventory strategies are raising tough questions for consumers as well as the stores themselves. Retailers are increasingly turning stores into mini distribution centers for both shipping goods and providing in-store pickup, and the Chicago Tribune notes the tactic is adding new complications as companies consider how to divide stock betweenstore sales and e-commerce. Target Corp. is shipping from stores this season and keeping extra inventory at those sites to have goods available both for online buyers and walk-in shoppers. Toys R Us, by contrast, says its "first come, first served," for everyone, live or online. For retailers, the tactics amount to a high-stakes guessing game over both demand and the method of sale. Their success in forecasting may only be known when the sales season begins next month.
IN OTHER NEWS
Billionaire investor Carl Icahn will sell American Railcar Leasing LLC to a unit of Japan's Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. in a deal worth up to $3.4 billion. (WSJ)
U.S. manufacturing output is nearing pre-recession levels but about 1.5 million factory jobs lost during the downturn haven't returned. (WSJ)
Uber Technologies Inc. lost $800 million in the third quarter despite boosting sales more than 50% to $1.7 billion. (WSJ)Boeing Co. will seek voluntary layoffs and may resort to compulsory job cuts to help trim costs at its commercial jetliner arm. (WSJ)
Brazilian mining firm Vale SA will sell most of its fertilizer business to U.S.-based The Mosaic Company for around $2.5 billion. (WSJ)
BlackBerry Ltd. will invest some $76 million to develop software for driverless cars as the company pivots away from smartphones. (WSJ)
Middle East airlines are cutting services and jobs as weaker demand and growing protectionism cut into their rapid growth plans. (WSJ)
Bankrupt retailer American Apparel LLC won approval to close nine stores by Dec. 31 and potentially shut others that aren't sold at auction in January. (WSJ)
Hutchison Ports Holdings signed an agreement to develop cargo operations at Ukraine's Black Sea port at Chornomorsk. (Ipswich Star)
Recycled paper shipper Cycle Link says shipping lines have been unnecessarily slow to adopt new systems such as blockchain technology. (The Loadstar)
U.S. imports of Canadian wood are up 20% this year from 2015. (Bangor Daily News)
A Mediterranean Shipping Co. container ship collided with a fishing vessel off the coast of Peru, killing at least five people on the smaller ship. (Port Technology)
South Carolina officials say the advent of ultra-large container ships will leave some ports without international freight service. (McClatchy)
Maersk Line will scrap eight panamax-size container ships at yards in India and China. (MarineLink)
Daimler Trucks will open a 245,000-square-foot parts distribution center outside Des Moines, Iowa. (Des Moines Register)
Paul Page is deputy editor of WSJ Logistics Report. Follow him at @PaulPage, and follow the entire WSJ Logistics Report team: @brianjbaskin, @lorettachao, @smithjenBK and @EEPhillips_WSJ and follow the WSJ Logistics Report on Twitter at @WSJLogistics.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 20, 2016 06:43 ET (11:43 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2016 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.