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Edited Transcript of TFI.TO earnings conference call or presentation 25-Oct-19 12:00pm GMT

Q3 2019 TFI International Inc Earnings Call

ST-LAURENT Oct 30, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of TFI International Inc earnings conference call or presentation Friday, October 25, 2019 at 12:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Alain Bédard

TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO

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Conference Call Participants

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* Adam Kramer

Cowen and Company, LLC, Research Division - Associate

* Benoit Poirier

Desjardins Securities Inc., Research Division - VP and Industrials, Transportation, Aerospace, Industrial Products & Special Situation Analyst

* Cameron Doerksen

National Bank Financial, Inc., Research Division - Analyst

* David Griffith Ross

Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, Research Division - MD of Global Transportation and Logistics

* Fadi Chamoun

BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - MD & Analyst

* Gianluca Tucci

Echelon Wealth Partners Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst

* Kevin Chiang

CIBC Capital Markets, Research Division - Executive Director of Institutional Equity Research & Analyst

* Konark Gupta

Scotiabank Global Banking and Markets, Research Division - Analyst

* Walter Noel Spracklin

RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Analyst

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for standing by. Welcome to TFI International's Third Quarter 2019 Results Conference Call. (Operator Instructions)

Before turning the call over to management, please be advised that this conference call will contain several statements that are forward looking in nature and are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those anticipated.

In addition, the company earlier this year adopted the new accounting standard under IFRS 16, and as result, certain numbers are not directly comparable with past results.

Lastly, I would like to remind everyone that this conference call is being recorded on Friday, October 25, 2019.

I will now turn the call over to Alain Bédard, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of TFI International. Please go ahead, sir.

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [2]

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Well, thank you, operator, and thank you, everyone, for joining our call this morning.

Yesterday after the close of trading, we released our third quarter results. If you need a copy of the release, please visit our website.

Our continued strong performance at TFI International through the first 9 months of the year reflects our unwavering focus on the fundamentals of the business regardless of the economic condition that we have continued to fluctuate -- that have continued to fluctuate. By always concentrating on the fundamentals of the business, we were able to drive strong and consistent free cash flow and earnings per share, which, in turn, provide us the flexibility to optimize our approach to the business and ultimately create shareholder value.

How did we put this philosophy to work during the third quarter? We pursued an asset-light business model, our team was constantly on the lookout for potential operating efficiencies, we maintained a strong balance sheet and we completed 2 accretive business acquisition, adhering to our highly disciplined approach to M&A. If this sounds familiar, it's because at TFI International, our operating philosophy does not change in our quest to generating not just growth but profitable growth.

So this approach, it remains our intention to create and unlock shareholder value and, whenever possible, return excess capital to our shareholders.

Now let's have a look at our third quarter results. Total revenue was up 1% compared to the prior year third quarter and set an all-time third quarter record for TFI at $1.3 billion. However, as I mentioned, we're focused on profitability, not revenue growth for the sake of revenue growth, our operating income was up 3% to $132 million, and our adjusted EPS on a diluted basis were $1.04, consistent with the prior year.

In terms of our cash flow performance, which is important to us, net cash from operating activity of $187 million was up 12%, and our free cash flow of $130 million was up 50% compared to $86 million in the prior year third quarter.

Driving our strong operating and financial results is the continued strength of our 4 business segments.

So starting with our P&C, Package and Courier. This segment represents 14% of the total segment revenue, and revenue before fuel surcharge was flat at $155 million.

Operating income grew a -- 1% to $28 million, and the operating margin was 18.2%, also up slightly versus 18.1% in the corresponding period last year.

We view this as a solid performance given the slowing freight environment over the past year. Regardless of macro factors, we're committed to deploying cutting-edge technology, optimizing the business mix and asset utilization and leveraging our strong network to capitalize on e-commerce growth opportunities.

LTL represents 18% of our total segment revenue and generated revenue before fuel surcharge of $205 million relative to $228 million the prior year.

Our operating income was $26 million, up slightly versus $25 million a year earlier, and our operating margin was very strong at 12.6%, which is up 140 basis point from the prior year at 11.2%.

This strong performance reflects strong cost management and a 2.5% increase in our revenue per hundredweight, excluding fuel surcharge, as we continue to focus on the quality of our freight.

Our Truckload segment represents 48% of total revenue and generated revenue before fuel surcharge of $557 million, an increase of 7% over the prior year period.

Our Truckload operating income was $76 million, up 19% relative to $64 million a year earlier, and our operating margin was 13.6% compared favorably to 12.2% last year.

Our adjusted operating ratio was 83.1% for the Canadian Truckload, 87.1% for our specialty TL and 90.9% for our U.S. TL operation, reflecting improvements for both Canadian and U.S. Truckload.

We're very pleased with the year-over-year performance of our Truckload segment given how strong our third quarter was in 2018 and given also the weaker truckload freight market.

Logistics and Last Mile represents 20% of total revenue and generated revenue before fuel surcharge of $257 million, up 9% relative to $235 million in the prior year third quarter.

Operating income was $13.8 million relative to $16.8 million a year earlier.

Within this segment, we're very actively executing on a margin improvement plan, following the same strategy that we have many times before. As a result, we're confident in our team's ability to deliver.

Turning to capital allocation. Our approach remains balanced and disciplined. During the quarter, we made 2 accretive business acquisition, and we returned $84 million to our shareholders, including $20 million of dividend and $64 million of share buybacks.

You'll recall that twice this year, we expanded the size of our buyback authorization that commenced in 2018 from 6 million shares originally and ending with a total of 8.3 million shares. And we repurchased 7.3 million shares under that program by September [30] during the 1-year period.

More recently on September 30, TFI International was granted approval by the Toronto Stock Exchange to repurchase for cancellation an additional 7 million common shares, representing 9% of our public float over the 12-months period from October 2 to October 1 -- October 2, 2019 to October 1, 2020.

Going forward, our capital allocation plan is unchanged. We plan to buy back additional shares, pay our quarterly dividend and extend our track record of identifying attractive acquisitions opportunity, executing on them in a highly disciplined manner.

I'm also pleased to announce that yesterday, we raised our quarterly dividend by 8% to $0.26 per share.

And now operator, if you don't mind opening the lines. I'll be pleased to address questions from the audience.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions)

Your first question is from Konark Gupta with Scotiabank.

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Konark Gupta, Scotiabank Global Banking and Markets, Research Division - Analyst [2]

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Certainly, on the free cash flow, it was a pretty decent quarter from a free cash flow perspective. It looks like you are tracking ahead of $400 million on a trailing 12-month basis here. So do you see any upside to your $400 million guidance that you provided before? And do you expect any more asset sales in Q4?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [3]

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Yes. Well, that's a very good question. So yes. First of all, in terms of asset sales on the real estate side, as you know, we've always been able to identify the things that we could do. So for sure, we anticipate that probably 1 or 2 properties, okay, that we could sell probably in Q4. One small one in the South Shore of Montréal. It's a possibility around Montréal. We also have other areas that we could see some potential. So probably like maybe -- so we did about $20 million so far, I think, this year in real estate sales. So maybe we'll be able to add between $5 million and $10 million. And we see something kind of similar for 2020, probably like $15 million to $20 million in 2020.

But also, we're also buying a terminal in Toronto, the older Vitran -- well, it's not really an old terminal, but the Vitran terminal in Toronto, okay, that was a kind of sales and leaseback. So we're buying that back for $38 million in Q4. We've also bought a building in Montréal for about $6.5 million, okay, which is going to be housing our head office. Because right now, we rent one floor, and we decided to buy a building next to the airport in Montréal.

So those will be major CapEx that we'll do in Q4 on the real estate side. But the other side of the coin, we sold some real estate during the first 9 months, and we will be selling more of those excess real estate in Q4 and in 2020. Total probably between Q4 and the end of 2020 is in the neighborhood of $15 million to $25 million.

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Konark Gupta, Scotiabank Global Banking and Markets, Research Division - Analyst [4]

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Okay. So like the free cash flow, like that might progress more sort toward $450 million, you think, for the full year then?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [5]

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Yes. But don't forget that we're buying this terminal that's going to cost me $38 million, and we bought this head office that cost me $6.5 million. So if you put that -- this is why our guidance is still -- because of those real estate deals, we're still in the same kind of ZIP Code, the same neighborhood. But excluding that, you're right, I mean, we would do better than that, yes.

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Konark Gupta, Scotiabank Global Banking and Markets, Research Division - Analyst [6]

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Perfect. And then on the Logistics and the Last Mile segments, a couple of questions here. Can you help us with the volume and pricing trends between the Logistics and the Last Mile? So they are the 2 different entities, right? So can you help us understand the trends from those?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [7]

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Yes. So if you look at that, I mean, what we're doing is we're combining those 2 because they're really, really asset-light. I mean we don't own any asset. But in terms of the Logistics, what we do, we have operation both in U.S. and Canada. So in that sector, we do about 30% of our global revenue, 25% to 30%. The rest is all of our Last Mile, mostly U.S. based and some also in Canada, as you know.

Now our gross margin and our OE is down, okay, year-over-year, not because of Canada. I mean we performed fantastically in Canada. I mean our revenue and our OE is just outstanding, what we do in Canada. And this is why we've made some changes. We've asked Kal, our EVP, to help us in the U.S., help the team there. We have a very good team in the U.S., but they need more support. And that team was reporting directly to me until just a few months ago, and maybe I was not doing a good job enough, so this is why I asked Kal to help me, okay, help those guys over there in Dallas.

So what we see there is that we have opportunity to improve our margin, number one. And number two is we also have opportunity to reduce our costs. The problem we have with our Last Mile in the U.S. is we're competing with a lot of guys that don't like to make money. So we bought a few of them this year like BeavEX, like the Logistics division of Dicom U.S. And there's more maybe that will happen in the future. And this is a market where a lot of these guys, if they make one point, they're really happy. So this is why when we look at our U.S. operation, us, we're running between 5, 6, 7 points, which is not even 50% of what we do in Canada. So we're far, far, far. But some of it is the market, but some of it is us, too. So this is why we're going to be working aggressively in the U.S., with the team, to reduce our costs, improve our margin. Because in some areas, maybe our pricing was based on facts that don't reflect reality. So we'll be working very aggressively in trying to improve that. So I think that you will see some great improvement over the course of the next 12 months.

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Konark Gupta, Scotiabank Global Banking and Markets, Research Division - Analyst [8]

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Okay. That's good color. So on the Logistics side, I mean, you had these 2 new tuck-ins that you described, one in Canada and one, the other, in the U.S. Any sense on the revenue and margin profile for these things? You said that's accretive. How accretive would they be?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [9]

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Yes. Yes. Well, the one in Canada is really a great one because it's based out of Montréal. I mean those guys have done a fantastic job. It's an hybrid. Right now these guys run logistics and a few trucks, a few assets. We'll see down the road because, normally, we don't like those hybrid model, but we'll see. I mean those guys are doing well.

The guys in the U.S., this is the logistics. The one I called -- I talked about is Dicom. Those guys were doing okay, not good but okay. But the purchase price was really favorable to us because I think nobody wanted to buy it anyway. So it's going to be accretive to us. No problem.

The revenue, the U.S. one, is about -- was about $50 million. But after everything that doesn't make any sense for us, we're probably down to $35 million -- $30 million to $35 million. But making money, not 4 or 5 points. That's one of the trade that probably will be closer to 8 to 10 by the end of 12 months that we run the show there.

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Operator [10]

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Your next question is from Jason Seidl with Cowen and Company.

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Adam Kramer, Cowen and Company, LLC, Research Division - Associate [11]

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This is Adam on for Jason. Maybe just a quick one and kind of following up there on your previous comments. Just asking kind of how -- what the M&A market looks right now and how your M&A pipeline looks. Do you guys see multiples coming down? And in what specific areas are you focused on in M&A?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [12]

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Yes. That's a good question. I mean if we think about the U.S. market, we're really focused on the Last Mile. So if we could do more of these transactions that we've done so far to eliminate some of the players in the market that, like I said earlier, cannot make money or don't like to make money. So that's one focus of ours, Last Mile in the U.S. If we could do something in Canada, that would be great as well.

Then if you look at the Canadian market, our focus has always been in the LTL. What can we do to -- because as you know, our revenue keeps on coming down, okay? Organically, it's negative growth for the market. So if we could find a good fit with another LTL company, that would be great.

Specialty truckload, where we've been active in U.S. market, we're the #1 player in Canada. We want to grow our base in the U.S. with the specialty truckload. So we're active in that. So we did 2 interesting acquisitions so far in the U.S. So we're in the lookout for that as well. Same thing for Canada on the specialty TL.

In terms of valuation, I think, guys, valuation is okay. It's acceptable. Some areas where you look at the file and the guy is asking for something that we can't afford, so we just pass. But we're disciplined. I mean us, we -- M&A, it's not an easy business, so you got to be very careful about what you do. It's easy to buy a company. But then you have to integrate, you have to manage, you have to improve, you have to generate the free cash flow and all that. So it takes time. So this is why with TFI's size today we could do multiple in a year like we're doing this year and the previous year. We could do a major one maybe in 2020. But discipline is the key there and the fit also within TFI. It's got to be -- or maybe a new platform like our U.S. specialty TL that we've done this year. It's a new platform for us for growth in the U.S. So we feel good about that. I think 2020 is going to be, again, a good year for us.

In terms of valuation, it's still acceptable. Are they less than they were a year ago? Well, in terms of -- if you say that's 5x EBITDA and your EBITDA is down 20%, so maybe the valuation ratio Is still at 5, but maybe the EBITDA is down 5% or 10% or 15%, 20%. So price goes down accordingly, right?

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Adam Kramer, Cowen and Company, LLC, Research Division - Associate [13]

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Got it. No, that all makes sense and I appreciate the color there. Maybe just a quick follow-up and switching gears a little bit. Obviously, the U.S. trucking market has been soft now for much or if not all of 2019 and all sorts of difficulty kind of there, and pretty well publicized them. I wanted to ask a little bit about the Canadian trucking market and how that compares to the current state of the U.S. market. And what kind of trends are you seeing in the Canadian trucking market?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [14]

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Well, it's basically the same. I mean the big difference between Canada and the U.S. is on one sector, our specialty truckload on the flatbed side, has been affected badly, okay, with the steel tariffs that took effect, I think, late last year into early -- into next year, the steel tariff between U.S. and Canada. I know that these disappeared a few months ago, but it takes a long time for the steel industry to get back on track. So that has been a negative effect for us, but that should go away in 2020. Also, the strike at GM or the strike right now at Volvo/Mack affects our aluminum, affects shipments, affects also steel shipments to those guys. So our flatbed had been very unlucky right now.

Now in terms of the van side, if you look at our Q3 numbers for Canadian van, I mean, we're at 83% OR. I mean it's tough to do better than that, right?

Now we have pressure on freight for sure. Freight is soft there as well. Why? Because a lot of the corporation are just waiting on the sideline for investments, okay, in order to understand what are the new rules of international trading because of all this fight between, let's say, U.S. and China and this free trade deal between Canada and the U.S. that has been agreed upon but not signed yet. So there's a lot of standby investment that affects us in Canada as well as it affect us in the U.S. But still, I mean, our guys have done a fantastic job of adjusting the costs to the reality.

We also have another factor in Canada that's very negative for us, is the principle of what they call Driver Inc. So this is really unfair competition to us and other companies that operate legally in Canada. Driver Inc. is a model, okay, that you hire a driver, but you don't pay the driver as an employee. You say to the driver, whoa now, we're going to hire your company, okay, and then there's no fringe benefit. So it's like a very gray area that slowly will probably be addressed by the local authorities in Canada. This is really unfair competition to us. Those guys are mostly based in Ontario. It's a big problem. It's been there for a long time, but it's been growing like weeds, and that's another issue. Our guys have really done a fantastic job of fighting these kinds of unfair competition. So hopefully, the Canadian government and the Ontario/Quebec guys will wake up and smell the coffee and start to address this situation because this is really, really major unfair competition to us.

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Operator [15]

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Your next question is from Cameron Doerksen with National Bank Financial.

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Cameron Doerksen, National Bank Financial, Inc., Research Division - Analyst [16]

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So I just want to maybe ask a few questions for you just around the capacity situation that maybe you're seeing, your competitive capacity, because there's been some early indicators that maybe some of the smaller competitors in the U.S. and maybe even in Canada are in some financial difficulty and may be exiting the market. So -- and I guess we've also seen truck orders down massively year-over-year. So I'm wondering if you can sort of talk about what you see as the capacity situation as we look ahead into 2020 and whether you see a supply and demand balance kind of getting a little better for you.

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [17]

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Yes. I think that in the U.S. particularly, Cameron, there's some equilibrium that's coming. I mean there's bankruptcy every week in the U.S., every week. And you have a large trucking company like Roadrunner that says, well, you know what? We're going to shed 400, 500 trucks from our truckload operation. So for sure, I mean, you look at the situation today and you look at the situation in 6 months, the fact also, like you said, that the Class 8 order for trucks are down big time, for sure, I mean, there are going to be less offer down the road versus what it is today. I mean it's the nature of the trucking industry. 2018 was great. The truckers were able to adjust rates to a more reasonable level. And then a guy says, whoa, let's add trucks, okay, and he says -- I've been 20-some years in the business, and I'm -- I look at that and I keep saying, "How come we don't understand this basic principle of offer and demand? I mean when the demand is high, what do you do?" I mean you move your price reasonably, okay, but you don't add capacity because then, in 6 months or a year, then you're going to be stuck with the other problem where there's too much capacity. Then you got to bring the rates down. It's the stability of our market.

But I think things are starting to change in the U.S. Things are also improving in Canada except, like I had said earlier, for the Driver Inc., okay, situation that we have in Canada, which is really unfair. Except for that, I mean, in Canada, things are getting better. And I would say that the U.S. is going to get back to more of an equilibrium probably within the next 3 to 6 months, faster than Canada. The problem in Canada is we're adding capacity with those Driver Inc. guys.

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Cameron Doerksen, National Bank Financial, Inc., Research Division - Analyst [18]

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All right. Okay. No, that's great. And just specifically looking at your U.S. Truckload operation, just maybe an update on some of the operational improvements that you're still implementing there. What's sort of left to come? I know the TCA business is the one that's been kind of underperforming. But maybe you can just talk a bit about that.

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [19]

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Yes. Yes. Absolutely. So it's very good question, Cameron. So what we've done, and we're trying to help TCA, is we've asked Greg Orr, the guy that runs CFI, doing a great job there with this team. We said, "So Greg, could you help us with TCA?" And he said, "No problem. We'll do that."

So we've started to implement some principles, some KPIs there, and we're starting to see some improvement. Because if you look at our OR in Q3 year-over-year, it's still an improvement. And most of the improvement comes from -- year-over-year from TCA, okay? So we've invested a lot of capital in TCA because right now, in 2019, my free cash flow coming out of TCA will be 0. Why is that? Because we're investing a lot of dollars in the capital of the fleet buying new trucks. But the beauty of that is that the guy delivered on that. So our maintenance cost now at TCA is comparable to CFI and comparable -- basically comparable to what we do in Canada. So I'm really happy with that. So we're starting to see some improvement there.

More improvement has to come from the utilization of the assets, okay? We have to do a better job on that. And globally, it's not easy to do when you have a soft rate environment, okay? But if market is soft, then you have to adjust your level of assets.

The other thing also that's important that we do better is owner-operator. So we have to try to grow this suite owner-operator that we have within TCA and CFI. And if you look at what we do in Canada, our percentage company drivers OO is like 65%, 70% versus 30% asset-light operation OO in logistics brokerage. We're still far from that in the U.S. So this is another area of improvement. So that would improve our return on invested capital because we have to invest less capital, okay?

So we still have some good stuff to do. One other thing also that I think I said earlier on a call, I think it was in Q2, is that we're implementing the same software for financial purposes as the one that CFI is using. So that's going to be easier for the finance team to KPI the 2 companies, so -- because now we don't have the same finance software. So by January of 2020, we'll be running on the same financial software.

And then part of our plan for 2020 is also to move the operation into a different TMS, which is a cloud system which a lot of the U.S. Truckload guys are running on versus what we're using now, which is a kind of green screen, old technology. So that will be, again, a very important process for us to try to improve our operation, improve our lane density. But you know what? I'm really happy with it because when I look at our Q3 numbers for our U.S. TL and we compare that to the best guy, okay, with, you could say, Knight is probably the best or one of the best and we compare ourselves, I mean, we're my getting closer to those great truckload guys in a freight environment that's difficult.

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Cameron Doerksen, National Bank Financial, Inc., Research Division - Analyst [20]

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Yes. No, that's great. Maybe just final very quick just on the EPS guidance for the full year. I sort of assumed here that you're still quite comfortable with the $3.90 to $4.10 you've kind of talked about, okay? I just want to confirm that.

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [21]

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Yes, yes.

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Operator [22]

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Your next question is with Benoit Poirier from Desjardins.

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Benoit Poirier, Desjardins Securities Inc., Research Division - VP and Industrials, Transportation, Aerospace, Industrial Products & Special Situation Analyst [23]

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First question. If we look at the Logistics and Last Mile, obviously you mentioned that there are some margin improvement with the integration of the latest acquisition. So first, could you talk a little bit about the contribution of the last 2 tuck-ins? I've heard you on the call saying that the USD 50 million, that will come down to $35 million. But were you including Craler as part of the -- those -- what is included in the...

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [24]

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No. No. No. The USD 50 million is the last one that we bought in the U.S. And this is just the U.S. It will come down to USD 35 million. Some of that is linehaul business, okay? These guys were doing linehaul for our customer. I mean we're not a linehaul kind of company. So this had to go away. There was also some logistics kind of business in there. So what we've done, small, $4 million, $5 million. So we've moved that to our CFI logistics business, okay, because that's what these guys do. So this is why when I talk to my Last Mile guys from $50 million, now we're down probably like around $35 million. But in there, okay, we have a great piece of business, which is about $20 million to $25 million, that is health care related, okay?

So if you remember, when we bought BeavEX, there was also a health care thing there that's called GML, Guardian Medical Logistics, okay? So I mean we have all the cards to do a much better job than what we're doing today. But it will take some time because -- and this is why we asked our Canadian team, leadership team, to help our U.S. team, okay, so that we could start getting better results faster, right?

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Benoit Poirier, Desjardins Securities Inc., Research Division - VP and Industrials, Transportation, Aerospace, Industrial Products & Special Situation Analyst [25]

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Okay. Okay, perfect. And what about the size of Craler, the other tuck-in that you made during the quarter?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [26]

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Craler is small. Yes, Craler is small. I mean it's a $20-some million company based out of Montréal. But it's a great, great asset. Great team. Good fit with our other business like Cavalier, like Tripar, all these guys. It's a great acquisition, and we're going to do well. Those guys are great team, lean and mean. Perfect. Good fit.

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Benoit Poirier, Desjardins Securities Inc., Research Division - VP and Industrials, Transportation, Aerospace, Industrial Products & Special Situation Analyst [27]

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Okay. And when we look at the margin profile for Logistics and Last Mile, close to 5%, obviously down versus last year because of the integration of those acquisition. But longer term, where do you see the margin potential for Logistics and Last Mile once the -- those acquisition are fully integrated, Alain?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [28]

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Well, you know what, guys? I think that -- I haven't seen the plan for 2020 yet. But when I talked to Kal and to the rest of the team, for sure in 2020 we see a 200 basis point improvement over this year. No doubt about that. So let's say we end up the year with something around 5% or 6%. I think that next year, we're going to be closer to 7% to 8%.

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Benoit Poirier, Desjardins Securities Inc., Research Division - VP and Industrials, Transportation, Aerospace, Industrial Products & Special Situation Analyst [29]

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Okay. Okay, that's pretty good. And...

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [30]

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And that mostly comes -- excuse me, but that mostly come from improvement in the U.S., I mean, because in Canada already, I mean, we do very, very well in Canada. I mean our team is lean and mean. The guys are really focused. In the U.S., I mean, we made some changes. Let's refocus because those guys were -- 2 acquisition. Now we bring the Canadian team as the support to help those guys turn around the situation. Because those company like BeavEX, the reason they went bankrupt is not because they had a star management team. So it put a lot of pressure on our U.S. team. So this is why I said, hey, guys you know what? Canada is running perfectly good. So let's have these guys support our U.S. team, guys. And you'll see, you'll see. I'm telling you, you'll see major improvement in 2020 within our Last Mile division -- Logistics and Last Mile, mostly coming from our Last Mile in the U.S.

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Benoit Poirier, Desjardins Securities Inc., Research Division - VP and Industrials, Transportation, Aerospace, Industrial Products & Special Situation Analyst [31]

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Okay. That's great color, Alain. And when I look at the Truckload business in Canada, you've been able to improve the OR by 4%, so from 87% to 83%. While -- when you look at the U.S. TL, it's been almost flat quarter-over-quarter, close to 90%, 91%. So I was just wondering what -- if you could provide more color about why Canada was able to improve so much and if you still see the opportunity for U.S. TL to reach kind of the 80%, 85% over time?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [32]

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Well, that's going to be quite a challenge. What I said, Benoit, is always the same. I mean you have to run a Truckload operation with a 90% OR over a period of 10 years on average, okay? So '19 is a difficult year versus, let's say, '18 was a great year for Truckload guys. So to me, in '18, we should have run between an 82% to an 85% OR because that was a great year. We didn't do that because we came from 105% OR in 2017. So we have a lot of work to do.

Now if you look at 2019 with this kind of rate environment, when you look at the star of the U.S. Truckload, okay, and you look at a star and those guys are running an 80-something, 88%, 87%, 86% and you're running a 91% or 90.9%, you say, well, we still have some work to do, absolutely, okay? But we're on the right track.

Now in Canada, the big difference is we have a solid team that's been there for a long, long, long time, okay? Now that being said, okay, we have pressure now that -- like we've never seen before with those Driver Inc. like I was saying earlier, okay? So I mean the guys are working hard, but if we don't have a solution, this unfairness practice could put some pressure on the possibility of us running an 85% or an 88% OR when these guys are running maybe a 95% OR, but with 15%, 20% less cost than us on labor, okay?

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Benoit Poirier, Desjardins Securities Inc., Research Division - VP and Industrials, Transportation, Aerospace, Industrial Products & Special Situation Analyst [33]

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I see. And assuming, let's say, that U.S. TL finished close to 90%, 91% for the full year, and also in light of the market condition that should be more favorable in 2020, as you mentioned, what kind of the margin improvement or we could see, let's say, toward the end of 2020 for the U.S. TL, Alain?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [34]

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It's still hard to say because I haven't seen the plan from our guys in the U.S. So the guys are working on the 2020 plan, which we're meeting those guys on November 11. So I'll be in a better position to answer that kind of question. But my feeling is that we still have room to improve our cost, okay, improve our asset utilization, improve our -- revenue per mile, maybe that depends a lot about the quality of the market. So I wouldn't say anything about that, the quality of the revenue. But our costs, we still have some room to improve.

So let's say the market condition remains basically about the same. Freight environment, a little bit more favorable to truckers. We work on the costs. I think that we should end up in 2020 -- although this is still early judgment, but I think that we could do something like closer to an 89% to a 90%. If market helps us a bit, we work on the costs, we improve our asset utilization, I think it could be done. I mean we have a great team now running our Truckload operation in the U.S., a great team. So I mean we're going to get there.

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Benoit Poirier, Desjardins Securities Inc., Research Division - VP and Industrials, Transportation, Aerospace, Industrial Products & Special Situation Analyst [35]

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Okay. And in terms of contractual rates in terms of renewal, what do you see these days, Alain? And what would you expect going into 2020?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [36]

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Well, what we're seeing right now is that one of the reasons we have so much freight softness in the first 9 to 10 months -- even now, October, it's still not a normal October, what we see so far. But the reason being is that there was lots of inventory at the level of our shippers, okay? If you look at the inventory level in the U.S. December of '18, and that keeps on falling, okay, until, let's say, October of this year. So that bodes well for us in 2020 because freight environment is going to be soft if those guys have too much inventory, which is a problem that we went through all of 2019. Now 2020, it's still early in the game. We'll see better in the next 2 months.

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Operator [37]

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Your next question is from Fadi Chamoun with BMO Capital Markets.

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Fadi Chamoun, BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - MD & Analyst [38]

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Alain, my first question is I wanted to get your thoughts on now that we have seen maybe 2 or 3 quarters of CN Rail kind of becoming a little bit more involved in those Last Mile operation with the recent acquisition they've done, have you seen kind of the end markets and the competitive environment kind of changed a little bit? And kind of any additional thoughts on this now that you've had maybe 2 or 3 quarters to see it play out?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [39]

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Well, I think, Fadi, what CN has done is great. I mean they took TransX and they took also the intermodal division of H&R. And it's just normal for them. I mean it makes a lot of sense, those moves.

Now do they want to be truckers? Well, that's the question. I think that everything that they do over the road probably will not fit CN in the future, but that's their decision.

But what I've seen so far is that those guys are moving into the Truckload segment of the intermodal, which is something that we don't do us except within our Quik X track, okay, which is small. It's about $40 million to $50 million of business that we, do truckload on the rail, [river] from east to west, okay, with customers like in the dairy industry out of Québec and some food industry also out of Ontario into the Western Canadian market.

So I mean I see that as very positive because CN is all about making money. And when I see a company that grows, their focus is about making money. I like that. What I don't like is when I see all those guys that don't like to make money, and they think that 1% or 2% is great. Well, I don't like to compete with those kinds of guys.

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Fadi Chamoun, BMO Capital Markets Equity Research - MD & Analyst [40]

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Okay. That's helpful. My second question. On the Truckload side, it sounds like you have a good management team in the U.S., but you also always characterize this market with being kind of very competitive and mainly irrational a little bit. And you're still on the smaller size in terms of the U.S. So is this business much bigger in 3 to 5 years? Or is the strategy maybe is to exit, make it smaller in 3 to 5 years? How should we think about where do you see the capital deployment going in the next 3 to 5 years? Is it going to Truckload or retreating from that business?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [41]

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Yes. That's a very good question, Fadi. So our approach to that is very simple. And so what we said is we have a great team that can run 3,000 to 4,000 trucks in the U.S. So we'll never be a 15,000 or 20,000 truckload guys in the U.S. right? No way, okay? So the size that we have today is good. We could do well with that.

Now our focus now is to grow like we have in Canada. In Canada, we have a balance between van and specialty TL. We favor the specialty in Canada. And right now in the U.S., it's the complete opposite, okay? So right now, let's say we have about 3,500 trucks on the van division. Well, we don't even have 1,000 trucks in our specialty TL today in the U.S.

So really, the focus for us in the U.S. on the Truckload side is specialty truckloads. So we made 2 very interesting acquisitions so far with Schilli and Aulick. We're really very happy about what's going on over there.

So the focus, to answer your question, Fadi, is not to grow our van division in the U.S. At least for now, it is to grow our specialty truckload.

It's the same in Canada, okay? So absolutely, we're looking at all kinds of opportunities to grow our specialty truckload operation, both Ontario, Québec, not so much out west because our philosophy, as you know, is we like to be the big fish in the small pond, never the small fish in a big pond.

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Operator [42]

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Your next question is Walter Spracklin with RBC Capital Markets.

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Walter Noel Spracklin, RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [43]

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So I'd like to focus a little bit on your guidance items. It sounds like not a lot has changed, but you have -- I mean, the world has changed around us. You've done a couple acquisitions. So I just wanted to just check to make sure I know. You mentioned $400 million for free cash flow is still the target, but I think it would have been higher if you weren't doing those real estate purchases. So coming back now, EPS, you were at, I think, $3.90 to $4. Any reason why that wouldn't -- would change at all in 2019 here?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [44]

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No. Not really. I mean we want to be very conservative, Walter. As we said -- I mean, the same question was asked in Q2, and we said, no, no, guys -- I mean, yes, Q2 was great, but we're sticking to our guns with the $3.90 to $4.

I mean if we beat it, I mean, fine. But so far, what we're seeing, like as I said earlier, I mean, we're seeing an October that we haven't seen before, okay? This is not a normal October. Now don't forget we had an election in Canada. An election always affect the consumer and the things that happen.

We have all kinds of situation in the U.S. with this China thing there that hopefully you could get some resolve in there. It seems like it's going to go well with their Phase I kind of deal. So that will alleviate also some clouds. There's lots of cloud because of that. And not with the consumer, with the corporate world. They're not investing. So it's affecting us. So this is why to me -- I said to our guys, "Listen, if we can deliver between $3.90 and $4, guys, with this kind of freight environment in 2019, it's okay, I'm happy." 2020, we'll see. But no, we're not increasing our guidance, Walter.

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Walter Noel Spracklin, RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [45]

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So 2020, I think, though, most are taking a cautious view. Certainly, that's the tone that came out of the rail report, and I think that's where [people] were kind of pointing everyone. Consensus out there right now for you is in the $4.20, $4.25, maybe up to $4.30 range, implying about 5% growth. Is that reasonable, you think? Do you think in an environment where we have a sluggish first half but a back half rebound, which is what the rails were kind of intimating, can you do 5% in a kind of -- not a recession but a sluggish first half and then an improving back half?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [46]

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M&A is the thing that helps us a bit, Walter, I mean, because when you look at organically, I mean, we have no growth. It all depends how good our M&A will be late '19 and into 2020. So if we don't do anything, Walter, let's say we don't do any M&A, this is not reasonable. I mean $4.25, it's out of the question. But as you know, the proof is in the pudding. Saying that we're not going to do anything, never happen, right?

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Walter Noel Spracklin, RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [47]

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Right. So with that in mind, just say you have $1 of free cash. Now as you look into the 2020 kind of framework, where do you want to spend that dollar? Do you want to put it all back into your company? Do you want to focus on a few tuck-ins here? I mean your balance sheet looks good. Or are you increasingly focused on -- are valuations becoming appealing enough that you're going to get much more active, do you think, as we go into 2020 and through 2020 outside of that larger acquisition that you could get a little bit more active on the acquisition front?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [48]

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Yes. So let's say there's no big whale for us in 2020, Walter. We're going to be about $200 million of M&A for sure in 2020. I'm convinced. Now this is not in our forecast for 2020 because in our plan, every year we never forecast any M&A. To say that we're going to be at $4 a share or $4.20, M&A is always out of that equation. But based on what I can see, based on our pipeline, based on the market condition, I think that a $200 million investment in 2020 is reasonable on M&A for us.

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Walter Noel Spracklin, RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [49]

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And barring any large acquisition, the other $200 million goes into buyback, is that right?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [50]

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Right. Yes.

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Walter Noel Spracklin, RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [51]

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Okay.

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [52]

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Yes.

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Walter Noel Spracklin, RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [53]

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And final, on CapEx then. You were guiding us, I think, $200 million to $225 million net. Any change in that? And any indication for 2020 as to what your CapEx spend will be like?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [54]

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It's about the same, Walter. It's about the same. What we're trying to do is it should do more with less, okay? So this is why we are able to sell some real estate. We buy back real estate when it makes sense like the Toronto terminal from Vitran.

We're trying to work with our U.S. guys to try to do more with owner ops, if possible try to do more revenue with our CFI logistics operation, our CFI Logistica in Mexico. And so that's the focus. But basically, I would say so far, early numbers that I'm seeing is that CapEx is basically going to be the same. Now maybe just a tick less because TCA, we did a major push at TCA in 2019. So those guys are back. If you look at our MD&A, you'll see that the average age of our trucks in the U.S. Truckload now is really where it should be. So there's not going to be a major push in 2020. It's going to be just replacing, okay, in a normal fashion. So maybe a little bit less.

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Walter Noel Spracklin, RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [55]

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The final question is on pricing. I've been doing some channel checks with some of your larger and smaller peers in Canada. It's been an interesting dynamic where the smaller peers are saying that pricing is just falling off a cliff. When I compare that to some of your larger private peers, they're saying that no, that the smaller players really jacked prices high in 2018 and now, to the point of being -- of taking advantage of the shipper and now they're -- now it's swinging back on them. Larger carriers did not do that, and therefore, you didn't see as much of that swing. Would you characterize that for your company, that yes, there might be some pressure on pricing, but we're not falling? It's not -- the bottom's not falling out like it might be for some of the smaller peers?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [56]

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No, absolutely. I mean if you look at our results, Walter, I mean, pricing -- the problem that we have, if you talk -- are you talking Truckload or LTL or P&C or...

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Walter Noel Spracklin, RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [57]

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This was Truckload...

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [58]

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Truckload? It was Truckload?

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Walter Noel Spracklin, RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [59]

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Yes. Yes, it was Truckload for sure and a little bit of some of the smaller guys. They were a little bit all over the map but yes.

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [60]

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Yes. Well, the big problem we have in Truckload in Canada is very simple. It's the Driver Inc. situation in Ontario. I mean the freight market has been soft, so -- and those guys keep on bringing new Canadians into this truckload market and hiring those guys through a Driver Inc. model. So this is to me the big pressure. And for sure, the shippers, they like to use those guys because it's cheaper for them. So that's the kind of pressure that we see on rates right now. And now so our answer is that listen, guys, I mean, this is completely unfair competition. So if Mr. Shipper, you want to use these guys, well, go for it, but it's maybe not going to last.

So no, we don't see -- we see pressure on rates. We see more pressure on volume, Walter. The same in the U.S. We see not so much pressure on rates, but we see a little bit of pressure on volume, the freight environment. And like I said earlier, October has not been the normal October that we normally see. But when we read about the general economy in the U.S. or in Canada, we're confident that this situation probably will resolve in 2020. But like you said, probably first 6 months is going to be not so good. Maybe the back half of 2020 will probably be much better.

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Operator [61]

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Your next question is with David Ross from Stifel.

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David Griffith Ross, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, Research Division - MD of Global Transportation and Logistics [62]

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Alain, just a quick follow-up there on the comments about the tone in October and into 2020. Is that much different than you would have thought a few months ago?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [63]

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Well, to say the truth, David, I'm a little surprised about October. I thought that October, we would start to see back to normal freight environment. Well, we're not seeing that yet. So I mean maybe November will change the trend or maybe it's going to have to go into 2020. We don't know yet. But what we're seeing is still a soft environment. And if you look at the guys that came out this year so far in Q3 with the U.S. TL, I mean, some of the guys are down 8%, 5%, 10% volume-wise I'm talking about, right? So us, we're down also but not so much. So we'll see. But I'm confident that when I look at level of inventory coming down big time versus what it was in January of '19 versus what it is today, consumer confidence is there. The only problem we face both in Canada and the U.S. is the corporate world not investing, okay, because of all this unknown about these trade wars and different political situation right now.

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David Griffith Ross, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, Research Division - MD of Global Transportation and Logistics [64]

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And then another thing that the Truckload guys have been talking about besides the weak volumes and the pressure on pricing from customers is the rise in insurance costs. How are you thinking about dealing with insurance at CFI and TCA given all the jury rulings and other issues?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [65]

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Yes. Yes. Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. You're absolutely right. And this is a fact for both Canada and the U.S., okay? So in Canada, we see a lot of pressure. The market for insurance is tightening up so bad. I mean we saw a guy that just got a 75% increase in insurance premium. So the way we service Canada us is different than the way we service the U.S. So in the U.S., I mean, we don't use our captive or whatever. So we use really the insurance market.

Our focus in the U.S. has been safety. So what we did in order to prevent those huge insurance premium increases is that we said to our guys, listen, we have to spend more on safety and making sure that those accidents, okay, if they are occur, we have the reality of what happens. So we have invested in forward-facing camera. Because when we bought CFI, there was no camera on their trucks. So by the end of this year, according to what Greg is telling me, is that 100% of our fleet will be equipped with those forward-facing camera. So that helps because if you're involved in an accident, now you have a clear picture of what happened. It's not just hearsay or, oh, this is what the guys have been saying. So safety is big. We've also invested within our new trucks with all the safety like collision avoidance, lane change assist and all that. So that's been the focus for us in 2019.

There again, I mean, we're going to be renewing our policy in the U.S. Our retention is quite high in the U.S. But the idea -- our focus, us, Dave, is, okay, premium will be what the market is. And what do we do to do better is to have less of these accidents. So the quality of your drivers. So instead of just trying to hire drivers with little or no experience, we're trying to focus on drivers with lots of experience because we have better results. So if you look at CFI, Greg was telling me that we probably have like 600 or 700 1 million miler within CFI. So driver with experience help us.

Also the turnover. So we're trying to focus on driver turnover. Turnover is another factor that is a negative, okay, in terms of insurance claim. You can see you've got new guys, you've got guys that don't know the customer, who don't know the area well. And they make a mistake and they -- oops, we're involved in an accident.

So I agree with you they -- the pressure on the rates, on the premium from the insurance company is great in U.S. and the same in Canada. And that's our focus, is guys, listen, I mean, let's reduce our claim. Let's be better.

Now so far, if I look at my claim this year, 2019, versus 2018 per mile, okay, we're doing just a little bit better. We're not where we should be, but we have a great team in safety like [Lisa Guterman], the lady that runs the safety department. She's really working hard in trying to educate safety and all that. And I feel good that we're going to be in a position to really reduce that.

In Canada, I mean, our teams are very experienced there and we're doing a great job. Now we were hit with some claims from one of our operation from 4 or 5 years ago in 2019, but what we've seen so far, I mean, we are really under control in Canada. So we feel good about that.

Now our competition, the smaller guys and the medium-sized guys, both in Canada and the U.S., for sure, they're getting hit with all kinds of insurance rate going up.

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David Griffith Ross, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, Research Division - MD of Global Transportation and Logistics [66]

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And then on LTL, the quality focus there has been terrific, as we've seen the margin expansion. But when does the growth focus resume? When do you feel comfortable enough there to kind of add more volume back [where it was]?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [67]

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The growth -- yes, growth -- the problem with growth -- organic growth, Dave, in my mind, it's very difficult to do right now in Canada because the market is shrinking and a lot of these other truckers don't understand that when the market is shrinking, you have to shrink your offer, you have to shrink your fleet, et cetera, et cetera. So it's a difficult situation, so you should never anticipate seeing TFI's organic growth in LTL. What you could think of is, okay, is he going to buy another LTL company anytime soon? Maybe, okay, if we could find the right company, the right fit. But I'm telling you, every LTL company that I look at right now, they're not highly profitable. There are some in Canada that are probably highly profitable, comparable maybe to us, but these guys are not for sale. I mean these guys are running a good operation, so they're trying to grow their business slowly. But us, I mean, our focus is really on the bottom line. So I don't think that if you exclude M&A, you're not going to see top line growth in our LTL in Canada, no.

But I think M&A is the solution like we've done in the past. I mean if you look at what we've done, we bought Cavalier, we bought Normandin over the last 18 months, and it has been fantastic. But in terms of top line, we're back to square one. I mean what's that? Bottom line, we're flat. Top line, we're down.

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Operator [68]

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Your next question is from Gianluca Tucci with Echelon Wealth Partners.

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Gianluca Tucci, Echelon Wealth Partners Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [69]

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Alain, can you talk quickly about the impact e-commerce had on your overall business in Q3 in Canada and the U.S.? And secondly, how your strategy differs in both of those markets pertaining to e-commerce?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [70]

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Yes. Sure. And so the problem we have with our e-commerce is that one player, which is the largest player in North America. I mean we basically don't service this customer or this company because we made the decision that these guys are not part of the solution. So our focus has been, well, let's try to see what we can do with some of the brick-and-mortar guys that understand what e-commerce is all about. And this has been the success of our e-commerce solution to our customers. So we have some great brick-and-mortar guys that have -- finally were able to understand how about -- the e-commerce market works, and we're trying to grow with that. But if you look at my annual revenue from e-commerce, I'm basically flat, and the reason being is that some of my competition, the focus is volume. It's not about making money, it's about just growing market share, and hopefully one day we'll make money.

It's like this philosophy that comes from this large e-commerce guy that says, well, we're there to service customer. And are we making money on doing that? Probably no. They came out with their numbers just a day or 2 ago. And in terms of delivery, their cost is just going through the roof because -- we're lean and mean. We could do a good service, but we can't work with a customer that says that your margin is my opportunity, right? So there's no future for us in trying to work with this guy. So this is why for us, we're trying to work around the largest e-commerce guy and trying to grow profitability. We could grow our e-commerce at least by $100 million a year easily if we sacrifice the bottom line. Well, I said to my guys, "We can't do that because us, I mean, if we don't have any bottom line, why would we have investors?" The guy would say, well, those guys are running a great company, but they don't make any money.

So I mean we're not in the world of maybe some player that they don't make any money. And they have a huge market cap, but in the trucker's world, if you look at UPS, the -- one of the best company in the world, those guys are all about making money, like us.

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Gianluca Tucci, Echelon Wealth Partners Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [71]

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That's good color. And then just one more question here quickly. Your overall business in Mexico seemed to have shrunk quite considerably, albeit it's a small number. But can you just talk about how that market is shaping up as we enter 2020 and your growth strategy down there over the near term?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [72]

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Yes. So our strategy there is in Mexico, we have a logistics company there. Our revenue are down a little bit with our logistics company, but our investment are huge. So we see a lot of potential there, okay? But so far, it's -- the results are not there 100%. But we keep on investing in our CFI logistics and our CFI Logistica in terms of people, in terms of trying to grow that because our focus is to try to run as much possible an asset-light operation.

In terms of our Truckload operation, we still have about 2,000 trailers in Mexico every day with freight coming in and out of Mexico. Now for sure, our focus is always to run a very profitable operation. So if there's no money there for us, I mean, we're going to shrink. We're going to adjust ourselves.

So we're down. We're down a little bit like we're down a little bit with our Truckload in U.S. in terms of top line because we have to adjust to market condition. Now if market condition improves like we believe it will in 2020, then we'll see what needs to be done and adjust ourselves accordingly.

One other thing that's very important to TFI is the return on invested capital. I mean this is key, key, key to us. And somebody comes to me and say, Alain, are we going to invest $1 million and make 2 points? No. Why would I do that? I mean I'm going to take my $1 million and invest in, I don't know, maybe RBC or one of those great Canadian banks and make 3 or 4 points in dividend. Why would I make 2%, take all kinds of risk? That's our philosophy.

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Operator [73]

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Your final question comes from Kevin Chiang with CIBC.

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Kevin Chiang, CIBC Capital Markets, Research Division - Executive Director of Institutional Equity Research & Analyst [74]

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Just a couple here. Just on the Logistics front. You've talked about the delta between your U.S. and Canadian margin profile. For that U.S. margin profile to improve, is it really just cost cutting and maybe repricing some underpriced contracts? Or would you need to be bigger there? Like is M&A part of the strategy to maybe get scale and have a margin profile that sounds it could be double digit? And is that necessary to -- is that necessary?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [75]

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Yes. Yes, well, M&A is not necessary, but it would be a good plus. But really, the job has to be done by us, Kevin. I mean we have to do the job in the U.S. like we did in Canada, okay? So don't forget that when we bought this company, Dynamex, in 2011, those guys were 1- to 2-point guys. They were happy with 1%, 2% bottom line. So it's a huge culture change. We had -- we've been doing a better job in Canada in trying to change this culture. And in Canada, we're running a double-digit EBIT company now for the last 2, 3 years. So -- but Canada is smaller, okay? It's smaller. So we were faster into changing the culture in Canada. Because don't forget, we are a big fish in Canada. We have a deep bench in Canada. So it was much easier for us to change the culture and the philosophy in Canada.

So what we're doing now is through all these M&A, okay, because don't forget, the U.S. excuse is that, well, we are competing with BeavEX and those guys don't want to make money. And we're competing with Dicom U.S.; those guys don't want to make money. That is true. So those guys are gone now.

So yes, but there's others. Okay, fine. But in the meantime, we have to change a little bit the culture and be more focused about being hungry for making money. And 5 points to me, it's not making money. It's not.

So I mean the guys, they understand that we have to do a better job, and the guys are really focused. So this is why -- I had a meeting with them last week in Dallas. And I feel so good about now, the team, the dedication and the focus. That's why I feel good that I'm convinced that those guys will improve their bottom line by at least 200 basis points 2020.

Now this is a combination of pricing improvement because pricing was priced wrong, okay? It's not that we are raising prices. We're just pricing it for correctly, number one. Number two is we have to address the cost situation. It's something that we have to do better job. And real estate is a big killer for us in the U.S. right now because as a percent of revenue, we're hovering about 5%. That's not good. We should be closer to 2%. So we have to work with our customer and try to work more off their docks instead of running our own dock. This is all kinds of changes, this culture. And when you talk to the customer, now don't forget, it's -- when you have BeavEX as competition and those guys say, well, real estate for us is not a problem, so we'll rent more space for -- to please the customer. And us, we say to our guys, no, no, no. Real estate? No, we'll work off your dock. So now BeavEX is gone. So those guys that didn't understand that no, no, no, you don't want 5% because don't forget, BeavEX, $200 million, those guys are running like 80 locations. It's completely stupid. I mean we run, us, about 60-some location right now within our Last Mile in the U.S., which is plenty. Now we could add more volumes. So if ever there's another potential acquisition in the last month, for sure we're going to look at it.

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Kevin Chiang, CIBC Capital Markets, Research Division - Executive Director of Institutional Equity Research & Analyst [76]

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That's helpful. And then -- and just to turn to your specialized TL. I recall maybe a quarter or 2 ago in terms of conference calls you had noted this being made the focus of growth because you had a little bit more pricing power in that division. I know there's a lot of M&A in there, but it is the one division, as you noted, that's shown a degradation of that OR on a year-to-date basis. Just wondering, are you seeing that pricing power? If I were to take out M&A, would those margins be improving year-over-year similar to what we've seen in your other divisions? Are you capturing that pricing power that you've been -- you were talking about a couple of quarters ago into the bottom line within specialized TL?

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [77]

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What's happening, Kevin, is -- like I said earlier in the call, is that flatbed division in Ontario has been suffering badly in 2019. It's very bad for all kinds of reason. The [state] tariff is one. The level of uncertainty in the global economy for our customers to invest or not to invest. So it's been a tough haul for us with the flatbed business in -- mostly in Ontario. I mean we do flatbed in Québec but not so much compared to what we do in Ontario.

We feel good. I mean Steve Brookshaw, that's his strength. I mean he used to run the flatbed division, and he's highly involved working with [Christine], the leader we have there. I mean we have a fantastic team. So we're going to turn the corner there.

Now at the same time, we got hit with those strike at GM. Okay. You say, well, the strike is only a month old, but it's affecting us because don't forget, when the guys feel that there could be a strike, oop, they slow down, they slow down just because they don't want to get stuck with too much product. So this strike hopefully gets resolved. So -- but it will affect us for the rest of the year. And hopefully, in 2020, we'll be back to normal.

At the same time, we have those guys at Mack -- Volvo/Mack that decided, oh, no, we're on strike. So again, that affects our aluminum shipments to the U.S. It affects some of our steel shipments to the U.S., so -- those strikes. So those guys are saying no, stop. Don't send us anything.

So this is why if you look at our specialty truckload, we did very well with our M&A in the U.S. Our Schilli and Aulick acquisition, fantastic.

Now if you look at what we've done in Québec, the Brasseur acquisition that turned out to be good, we had a little bit of issue with the one that we did on the cement hauling business. So we're working on it now. For sure, we're going to downsize our share of cement hauling in Québec because there's too much pressure and too much investment need. So we're going to adjust ourselves there. But we have a plan. We know what needs to be done.

So when I look at my OR in my specialty TL at 87% and I look at the van division in Canada that's 83%, there's a disconnect there. I mean it's not normal that your van guys are doing better than the specialty guys. Absolutely. So this is what I'm saying, is that our van guys are doing fantastically well, okay? Perfect. I'm very happy with that.

Now with -- like I said earlier with this Driver Inc. situation, keeps on growing, it's like a cancer, that could affect our van division. But at the same time, our Specialty TL guys are doing a fantastic job

So what I see probably in 2020, maybe if this Driver Inc. cancer continues, we could have pressure on our OR with our van division. But at the same time, okay, we have so much to do with our specialty TL that our specialty TL guys at 87%, 88% in Q3, this is not normal. We should do better than that. So those guys should be closer to an 84%, an 85%. And we know where the problem is. The problem is mostly on the Canadian side in Ontario flatbed and into our -- some of our specialty operation in Québec on the cement hauling.

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Operator [78]

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We have no further audio questions at this time. I'll turn the call back over to Mr. Bédard.

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Alain Bédard, TFI International Inc. - Chairman, President & CEO [79]

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Well, thank you very much, operator, and I appreciate everyone joining us today. We thank you for your ongoing interest in TFI International, and you can rest assured that we can close out the year with a continued focus on our business principle.

It should be clear from my remarks today we will continue to seek opportunity to create value, unlocking it for our investors and, whenever possible, return excess capital to our shareholders. So we're excited about the opportunities ahead, and I look forward to updating you again on our progress. And so thank you again for your time this morning and have a great day and a great weekend. Thank you.

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Operator [80]

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This concludes today's conference call. You may now disconnect.