Tired of Yo-Yo Contracts? Fix the Price with an Indexed-Based Model

When markets yo-yo, so do buyers and sellers … and they waste time, and money, doing so. When prices fall, buyers scramble to cut new contracts to obtain better prices and mythical “savings”*. When prices rise, suppliers scramble to exit contracts to get better prices from other buyers. And when prices yo-yo, it’s a never-ending renegotiation dance that does nothing but waste time, and money, especially when there’s an easy way to lock in a contract for the long term that allows both parties to win. It’s called the Price Index(ed) Contract, and in this post I’ll explain how you can lock in a contract that will protect both parties and allow you to avoid the renegotiation dance … which will allow you to focus on more categories and new, and better, cost savings opportunities.

The first thing to do is to build a should-cost model that captures all of the major price components (> 5%, if not > 10%) using current prices, drawn from an index. We’ll use a (hypothetical but representative) cost breakdown for a 30kVA power transformer, since we all need power, as the foundation for our example.

Cost Amount Percentage
Steel 1055 34%
Labor&Overhead 620 20%
Misc 560 18%
Copper 530 17%
Oil 215 7%
Transportation 125 4%
  3105 100%

This tells us that our primary cost components are steel, labor, and copper and that oil would have to to fluctuate 5% to have the same impact as a 2% fluctuation in copper and 10% to have the same impact as a 2% fluctuation in steel. This also says that if our threshold for negotiating a contract is a minimum cost reduction of 5%, that oil would have to fluctuate 70% for us to even consider a renegotiation. Given that rampant runs, like the one which we just experienced where oil tripled and fell back to the baseline in less than two years, historically only happen every few decades, and that labor costs tend to increase rather predictably with inflation, it also tells us that we should only be concerned with steel and copper costs.

There are market based indices for both steel and copper, the CRU is one example of the former and the New York Futures Market is one example of the latter. At least one of them will, on average, correlate to the prices that your supplier consistently plays for steel just like at least one of them will, on average, correlate to the prices that your supplier consistently pays for copper (which depend on their contracts, leverage, and the market(s) they buy from). You just have to agree on one.

Then, you can tie your contracts to the index and word them to automatically adjust prices on a monthly (or quarterly) basis using the impact of market price fluctuations on the should cost model. Since steel accounts for roughly 34% of the cost, if you agree to cost a increase of 1% for every 3% increase in steel cost, you won’t have to worry about your supplier having to choose between reneging on your contract or financial ruin in a bull market and if your supplier agrees to a cost decrease of 1% for every 3% reduction in steel cost, he won’t have to worry about you having to choose between finding cheaper sources of supply or risking financial ruin due to your inability to compete with (unrealistically) high costs. Similarly, if you agree to a cost increase of 1% for every 6% increase in copper price and your supplier agrees to a cost decrease of 1% for every 6% decrease, neither party loses — and more importantly, both parties win. In bull markets, your supplier gets to pass on the raw material cost increase — and only the raw material cost increase (as you both know the cost, no ridiculous mark-ups), and in down markets, you reap the savings without having to go through a long, time-consuming, wasteful renegotiation.

This works for any category you can think of, allowing you to lock in 1, 2, 3, and even 5 year contracts (on non-strategic categories) without having to worry about lost opportunities or overpayments. The only thing you have to do is check the indexes once a month (or quarter) on the date you both agree to “reset” the prices for the next month (or quarter) to make sure your supplier is holding up their end of the bargain. And you can even use this model to take into account financial costs, such as foreign exchange rate assumptions (if raw materials or components are being bought in a foreign currency) or finance assumptions (if part of the product or transportation cost needs to be financed). So build a should cost model and get that yo-yo off your finger.

* There’s no such thing as “savings”. “Savings” is just money you shouldn’t have spent in the first place. (And that is why “cost avoidance” is more important than “cost reduction”, despite the refusal of many old-school diehards to recognize that fact.