Canadian Electrical Wholesaler

May 18, 2020

Manufacturing Sales MarchManufacturing sales fell 9.2% to $50.8 billion in March, the lowest level since June 2016 and the largest percentage decline since December 2008, during the previous recession.

Manufacturing sales in March were substantially affected by COVID-19 as many plants were shut down or faced sharply lower demand during the last two weeks of the month. Given ongoing lower demand, together with continued challenges to global supply chains and ongoing physical distancing measures, the March decline in sales is expected to continue into April.

Sales were down in 17 of 21 industries, led by steep declines in the transportation equipment and petroleum and coal product industries. In contrast, sales were up in food, paper, as well as the beverage and tobacco industries.

In volumes terms, manufacturing sales fell 8.3%, indicating that a lower volume of products was sold in March.

COVID-19 has major impact on the manufacturing sector

Over three-quarters (78.3%) of establishments in the manufacturing sector reported that their activities were impacted by COVID-19. Furniture and related product (91.2%), miscellaneous (88.9%) and transportation equipment (88.3%) industries reported supply issues, with some shutting down several plants in response to lower global demand or in response to physical distancing requirements.

Over four-fifths (86.8%) of firms in the printing and related support activities industry reported that COVID-19 had affected their activities, as they lost clients in the wake of the closure of restaurants, schools and sporting events.

Paper (62.8%) and food (61.8%) manufacturers reported that COVID-19 had affected their activities. For both industries, higher consumer demand boosted overall sales in these industries during the month of March.

Based on respondent feedback, the largest estimated impacts of COVID-19 on manufacturing sales in dollar terms were in the transportation equipment (-$2.9 billion), fabricated metal product (-$376 million), petroleum and coal product (-$331 million), machinery (-$295 million), plastic and rubber product (-$277 million) and primary metal (-$219 million) industries. It should be noted that these estimated impacts are on an unadjusted basis and should be interpreted with caution. However, they provide an estimate of the magnitude to which COVID-19 may have lowered sales. 

Shutdowns at assembly plants and motor vehicle parts suppliers

Sales in the transportation equipment industry fell by over one-quarter (-26.5%) to $7.6 billion in March. All transportation equipment industries reported lower sales. The largest declines were in the motor vehicle (-33.8%) and motor vehicle parts (-31.6%) industries. During the last two weeks of March, all Canadian assembly plants and several motor vehicle parts suppliers in North America lowered production in the wake of COVID-19.

Refineries ramp down production 

Sales declined for the third consecutive month in the petroleum and coal product industry, down by one-third (-32.2%) to $3.9 billion in March. The drop in sales reflected lower prices and quantities, as refineries curtailed production in response to the world oil supply glut and falling demand as drivers stayed home in response to lockdown orders. Furthermore, many refineries have announced in the media that they will postpone their spring turnaround works as a result of the pandemic to avoid bringing in extra workers and contractors. 

Sales also decreased in the plastic and rubber (-10.9%), primary metal (-7.4%), fabricated metal product (-4.9%), furniture and related product (-16.6%), non-metallic mineral product (-11.7%), printing and related support activities (-16.2%) and machinery (-3.9%) industries. Most of the decline registered in these industries was attributable to plant closures or reduced production during the last two weeks of March in the wake of COVID-19, as well as due to lower demand. 

On the other hand, higher sales of plastic packaging for essential products—such as flexible food packaging, garbage bags and plastic containers—partly offset the decline in the plastic and rubber industry. Increased sales of COVID-19 signage for essential services partly offset the decrease in printing and related support activities.

Sales were up in the food (+8.2%), paper (+8.4%) and beverage and tobacco (+6.7%) industries. The gains in these industries largely stemmed from increased demand for meat and dairy products along with higher sales of beer, wine and soft drinks. The gain in the paper industry largely reflected panic buying of toilet paper and hygiene products across the country.

Ontario and Quebec lead the declines 

Manufacturing sales were down in eight provinces in March, led by Ontario and Quebec. In contrast, Manitoba and Nova Scotia reported higher sales.

Manufacturing sales in Ontario fell 14.3% to $22.3 billion, the lowest level since January 2014. Sales declined in 15 of 21 industries, led by the motor vehicle (-35.8%), motor vehicle parts (-32.7%) and petroleum and coal product (-30.6%) industries. Gains in the food, chemical, beverage and tobacco, paper and miscellaneous industries were mostly attributable to higher consumer demand for their products during COVID-19. 

Sales in Quebec declined for a second consecutive month, falling 4.1% to $13.1 billion. Sales were down in 17 of 21 industries, led by the petroleum and coal product, fabricated metal product, transportation equipment, and furniture and related product industries. The decreases were partly offset by higher sales in food and paper industries.

The largest monthly increase in dollar terms was in Manitoba (+8.2%), mainly due to higher sales of non-durable goods—particularly food. Sales in Nova Scotia rose 2.9% mostly on higher sales of the transportation equipment and paper industries.

Inventory levels edge up

Inventory levels edged up 0.1% to $87.5 billion in March. Inventories rose in 13 of 21 industries, led by the transportation equipment industry (+5.3%). This was mostly offset by lower inventories in the petroleum and coal product industry (-20.7%), as prices for crude oil and refined products fell sharply in March.

The inventory-to-sales ratio increased from 1.56 in February to 1.72 in March, mostly due to lower sales. This was the largest monthly increase in the inventory-to-sales ratio since December 2008. This ratio measures the time, in months, that would be required to exhaust inventories if sales were to remain at their current level.

Unfilled orders decline

Unfilled orders decreased 0.4% to $96.8 billion in March. The decline was mainly attributable to lower unfilled orders in the transportation equipment (-0.9%) and machinery (-3.5%) industries.

These declines were partially offset by higher unfilled orders in the fabricated metal product (+3.2%) and chemical (+18.6%) industries.

New orders fell 11.3% to $50.4 billion in March, mostly reflecting lower new orders in the transportation equipment (-38.5%) and the petroleum and coal product (-32.1%) industries.

Capacity utilization rate falls

The unadjusted capacity utilization rate for the manufacturing sector declined 3.6 percentage points to 72.8% in March. This was 8.8 percentage points lower compared with March 2019.

The capacity utilization rate for the transportation equipment industry fell 17.7 percentage points to 65.1% in March. The decrease was mostly attributable to lower production at motor vehicle assembly and motor vehicle parts plants associated with the two-week shutdown at the end of March. 

The capacity utilization rate of the petroleum and coal product industry declined for the third consecutive month, falling 11.8 percentage points to 65.1% in March. The decrease was attributable to lower production across the country due to lower demand and shutdowns at some refineries.

First quarter results

Manufacturing sales fell 4.4% to $162.4 billion in the first quarter, the third consecutive quarterly decline. In volume terms, manufacturing sales decreased 3.9% in the first quarter, mostly due to lower volumes sold in the transportation equipment (-15.7%) and petroleum and coal products (-9.5%) industries.

Source: Statistics Canada,

CEW market research 400By John Kerr

The past nine weeks have been to say the least a challenge across the electrical industry. From agents to suppliers, from end users to the electrical channel, all have been affected, all have been forced to think differently and all have begun the journey to retooling the way we operate.

This is the third report in our series quantifying and exploring how electrical wholesalers have had to adapt and how they are looking to find a way forward. For this we have taken a different approach from our previous reports in that we have incorporated the results from our recent survey alongside personal interviews and discussions with electrical distributor teams across Canada

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arkest Before the Dawn, Part 2

CEW 9 JK Figure 1 700By John Kerr

I spoke in my previous article about my father’s quote darkest before the dawn. Well, he had another saying clearly brought forward by his growing up in the depression. He would say, “Money is not everything. It just helps,” and at a time like this when there are so many storylines of effort above and beyond the call, and so many initiatives underway by electrical distributors, there will be a rallying right across the country. The electrical distributors are moving, reacting, and more adaptable than ever before. 

The current situation we find ourselves in is to say the least fluid, dynamic and somewhat disconcerting for many, but underlying it is a focused, disciplined approach to addressing the new norm and new reality. Some branches remain closed, some open with minimal staff, and others rotating staff and working differently than ever before.

Recent public reports by Wesco and Rexel have indicated drops approaching 23% through mid April and clearly ones that demonstrated a slowdown from mid March. Our discussions with both distributors and end users/contractors alike confirm their buying and purchasing activity were curtailed more aggressively in early April.

Over 106 electrical distributors responded to our recent survey with 73% from corporate and branch management. 

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Gurvinder ChopraBy Gurvinder Chopra

This June, Canadians will commemorate Electrical Safety Month; June also marks the fourth month of the COVID-19 pandemic national lockdown. For many Canadians, working from home has become the new normal. As confinement continues, the demand for constant power feed to connect to the world we now live, work, and play in at home has grown substantially. Homes are being equipped with new technologies that offer plenty of benefits, but they also place high demand on electrical systems at home, potentially causing serious safety risks. 

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David GordonBy David Gordon

In talking with distributors and manufacturers it is clear that many are actively in the planning and pivoting mode, moving from survivability to thriveability. They’ve stabilized their business financially, emotionally (from a staff viewpoint) and operationally. Now they are looking at “doing business,” and more financially secure ones are identifying ways to take share.

This doesn’t mean that others are not planning and pivoting. Some didn’t miss a beat; others typically don’t do much planning and live in the moment. 

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Building Permits - MarchThe total value of building permits issued by Canadian municipalities decreased 13.2% to $7.4 billion in March, with declines reported in seven provinces and two territories. The $1.1 billion national decrease was the largest since August 2014. This reflected notable drops in Ontario (-12.9%), Quebec (-18.1%) and British Columbia (-19.4%), which coincided with efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

 Value of residential permits down

The total value of residential permits decreased 13.1% to $4.6 billion in March.

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EIN evolve 400As we continue to respond to the changing status with the COVID-19 outbreak, EFC is taking preventative measures to protect conference delegates from any further risks associated with this virus. After much consideration and consultation, the EFC Board has decided to cancel EFC’s Industry Conference in Banff which was rescheduled from late May to September 1 - 3, 2020. This decision was difficult but necessary for the safety of our members, employees, and the community.

One of EFC's key mandates, is to deliver a premier national thought-leadership conference for industry members, partners, and affiliates. 

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Sonepar's Gaurav SharmaA new video featuring Sonepar’s Vice President of eCommerce and Digitalization, Gaurav Sharma, answers COVID-19 related questions regarding Sonepar Canada’s digital solutions, his team, and the future of eCommerce in the electrical wholesale industry.

Among new solutions introduced by Sonepar: customers can now create an online account through a simple text message. Traffic on Sonepar’s website has tripled since the pandemic began, and the number of new accounts has doubled. Many Sonepar locations also feature curbside pick-up.

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Schneider ElectricThe Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) is pleased to announce the appointment of Hugo Lafontaine, Vice-President Digital Energy at Schneider Electric Canada. CABA is an international nonprofit industry association that provides information, education and networking to help promote advanced technologies for the automation of homes and buildings.

“We are delighted to welcome Hugo Lafontaine to CABA's Board,” said Ron Zimmer, CABA President & CEO “He brings a stellar background in building systems integration and the building automation market, and a wealth of insight into the digital platforms and solutions that will define smart-building innovations now and into the future.”

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Harold HayesHarold Hayes, a stalwart of the electrical industry, passed away peacefully in Scarborough, Ontario at the age of 90 on May 9, 2020.

Harold joined the industry as an apprentice at age 18, working first for his father’s business, Power Cable Installations, and then for Comstock. Among his later accomplishments, he formed Federal Pioneer Electric’s electric heating division, served as president of the Ontario Electric League in 1985, and while in his 80s consulted for Intellimeter Canada Inc.



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Sarah SilversteinBlake Marchand

Sarah Silverstein is a principal with Liteline along side her two brothers Mark and Daniel. Together, they lead the company founded by their father, Steve Silverstein, who retired in 2018.

Although she initially pursued a career in outdoor education, Sarah was instrumental in the company’s expansion into architectural lighting and the U.S. market. She joined Liteline as a project manager in between stints working in outdoor education. Now she leads Liteline’s U.S. distribution arm and marketing department.


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