How Timken Manages the Business Cycle

Capital Expenditures

In Peter Navarro’s book entitled “The Well Timed Strategy: Managing the Business Cycle for Competitive Advantage”, the professor of business at the University of California-Irvine defines the master cyclist as “A business executive who skillfully deploys a set of well-timed strategies and tactics to manage the business cycle for competitive advantage”[1]. With respect to capital expenditures, firms headed by master cyclists will increase capital expenditures during recession in order to develop new and innovative products and be better positioned to satisfy pent up demand once a recovery takes place. These firms will also modernize existing facilities during economic slowdowns [10].

The overall financial performance of the Timken Company was disappointing in 1998. Although the company was able to set a new sales record at that time, earnings as compared to 1997 dropped 33% [2]. A combination of difficult market conditions and unusual occurrences such as a prolonged strike at General Motors contributed to the decline. “A nearly global economic slow down — which started last year in Thailand, spread to Japan, then to most of the rest of Asia, South America and Russia — has squashed demand for many U.S. products”[3]. The modernization of existing capacity in many countries along with volatile currencies and a strong dollar placed substantial downward pricing pressures with respect to bearings worldwide [1]. Competitors in Asia found the U.S. market appealing since demand was drying up in their home markets. Consequently, the amount of imports into the United States for the products Timken manufactured increased, while exports decreased during this time period.

In this global economic slowdown for players in the steel and ball bearings industry, conventional wisdom would dictate that a company would need to decrease their capital expenditures to better position themselves. Timken during this period of time executed some strategies that were contrarian to conventional wisdom in an attempt to manage the business cycle. From their 1998 annual report Timken states, “We made record capital investments to prepare for the future and lower costs”[4]. During the third quarter of 1998, Timken dedicated a $55 million dollar (~$69 million in constant dollars) rolling mill and bar processing investment at its Harrison Steel Plant in Canton, Ohio [11]. Modernization expenditures were also announced for Timken’s Asheboro plant which opened in 1994 and produces bearings used in industrial markets. “The expansion will increase the size range of bearings the Asheboro plant is able to produce, hike plant capacity and add options available to Timken’s industrial customers” [5].

Timken has a record of increasing its capital expenditures in the face of economic slowdown or recessions in keeping with the strategies and tactics of a master cyclist. Their last new steel making plant prior to 1998 was the Faircrest Steel Plant in Perry Township, Ohio [6]. The plant was announced in the middle of the early 1980’s recession and opened in 1985 [12]. Timken took a huge gamble and invested $450 million (~1.1 billion in constant dollars), which was two-thirds of Timken’s net worth at the time — to build the only completely new alloy steel plant in the U.S. since World War II” [7]. At the time, the so-called experts said the U.S. steel industry was dead and companies didn’t need to build any new plants ” [12]. Similarly during the recession year of 1991, Timken boosted capital expenditures to $144.7 million up from $120 million in 1990 [12].

In order to differentiate its products from pure commodities Timken invested in research and development during this period of economic uncertainty for its products. This strategy is also in keeping with the master cyclist philosophy of increasing capital expenditures to develop innovative products and new capacity in time for a recovery. While Timken’s largest research and development center is in Canton Ohio, it added another large facility in Bangalore India to focus on new product development. Timken Research has four centers located in the US, Europe, Japan, Romania and India. The Timken Engineering and Research India Pvt Ltd is part of the company’s “work with the sun” concept where it is day time in at least one of the company’s centers [8].

Risk Management

 Firms that geographically diversify into new countries and regions can reap the benefits that this hedging strategy provides against business cycle risk. “The effectiveness of geographical diversification as a hedge is rooted in the fact that the business cycles and political conditions of various countries are not perfectly correlated ” [5]. The privatization of Brazil’s steel mill industry in 2001 opened up the door for North American companies to do business there [9]. Timken responded by forming a joint venture with Bardella S.A. Industrias Mechanicas (Bardella) to provide industrial services to the steel and aluminum industries in Brazil. In 2001 the company also acquired Bamarec which operated two component manufacturing facilities in France. The presence of French facilities allowed Timken to expand their precision steel components business unit. Timken CEO James Griffith believed that there was an opportunity to grow this business in Europe and entering the French market provided a base from which to launch their European strategy [10]. Both of the moves during a recession provided Timken an opportunity to hedge against the business cycle risks they faced in the United States.


[1] Navarro, Peter. The Well-Timed Strategy: Managing the Business Cycle for Competitive Advantage. New Jersey: Wharton School   Publishing 2006.

[2] The Timken Company 10K Report. 1999.

[3] Adams, David. “Canton, Ohio Steel Executive Favors Federal Reserve Rate Cut.” Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio. 13 November 1998. KRTBN Knight-Ridder Tribune Business News: Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal.

[4] The Timken Company Annual Report. 1998.

[5] “Timken plans $20M boost for bearings. 16 July 1997.” American Metal Market. Vol. 105, No. 136, ISSN: 0002-9998

[6] Adams, David. “Steel Bearings Maker Timken Co. Opens New Canton, Ohio Mill.” 11 August 1998.

[7] Industry Insider. “How Timken Turns Survival into Growth.” 7 April 2003.

[8] Business Line (The Hindu). “Timken Company R&D base in India.” 11 February 1999.

[9] Robertson, Scott. “Timken expects to benefit from Brazil steel privatization.” 9 April 2001. AMM.

[10] “The Curse of a Strong Dollar; Timken CEO James Griffith says his outfit could sell a lot more bearings if the greenback wasn’t ‘overvalued…on the order of 30%.’” Business Week Online. 28 November 2001.

[11] “Continuity and Change in the Growth of a Family Controlled U.S. Manufacturing Firm.” Humanities and Social Sciences Online.   16 April 2007. <;

[12] Excerpt from Bear Stearns Industrial Internet Special. “The Wall Street Transcript – Questioning Market Leaders for Long Term Investors.” May 2001.



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