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Transforce Income Fund, Canada's largest trucking company, has bought an Alberta oil field services firm for its seventh acquisition of the year as it consolidates in a fragmented industry.

Montreal-based Transforce said yesterday that its purchase of Rebel Transport Ltd. expands its modest but growing trucking fleet in the oil and gas sector.

Transforce, whose top unitholder is the Saputo family's Jolina Capital Inc. of Montreal, will operate Edmonton-based Rebel through its Canadian Freightways subsidiary.

Wui-Seng Kon, an analyst at Wellington West Capital Markets Inc., said Transforce is adept at making acquisitions and giving guidance to local management.

"Transforce is very good at implementing improvements of the asset base. For example, running trucks at higher utilization. The whole idea is if you can maximize the usage of the trucks in both directions, to and fro, then that's when you can make huge profits," Mr. Kon said.

Navdeep Malik, an analyst at Scotia Capital Inc., said that while the trucking sector has been going through a round of consolidation, it remains highly fragmented with thousands of carriers.

Mr. Malik estimates that Transforce accounts for 5 per cent of Canada's for-hire trucking industry. Fewer than 100 of the country's 9,600 trucking firms post annual revenue in excess of $25-million, prompting acquisitors to consider an array of smaller takeover targets.

Rebel moves a wide range of petroleum equipment, generating $13-million a year in revenue. No purchase price was disclosed.

For Transforce, acquisitions help the trust increase distributions, said Alain Bédard, chairman and chief executive officer. "Our mission is to grow the business by buying good companies. That's the name of the game," he said.

Since 1996, with Mr. Bédard steering, Transforce has bought about 45 companies, including three purchases in the past 10 days.

"That's the nature of this trust, growing through acquisitions but also being good at integrating them into the operations," said Harry Levant, an independent trust analyst.

Mr. Levant added that Transforce has been able to largely withstand escalating fuel costs so far by passing on the higher bills to customers through surcharges. Amid an industry shortage of drivers and strong demand for trucking, many companies have been able to exert so-called "pricing power" by raising fuel surcharges.

Transforce's rivals include Mullen Group Income Fund, Contrans Income Fund, Trimac Income Fund and ATS Andlauer Income Fund.

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