Tag Archives: Supply Chains

America Has Lost the Trade War with China, and the Real Pain Has Yet to Begin, by Charles Hugh Smith

It’s hard to dismiss the suspicion that Chinese business, at the behest of the Chinese government, might try to make life difficult for American business. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:

Corporate America sacrificed national interests in service of greed, and so did the U.S. government.

As we all know, the source of Corporate America’s unprecedented explosion in profits in the 21st century is the offshoring of manufacturing to China. If you doubt this, please study the chart below of corporate profits. Apologists claim many excuses in an attempt to evade the central role of offshoring production to China, but they all ring hollow: no, it wasn’t increasing productivity or automation or Federal Reserve magic, it was shipping production to China and other low-labor-cost nations.

Whether we like to admit it or not–mostly not–the American economy is entirely dependent on manufacturing in China. America’s short-sighted obsession with increasing profits to fund buybacks and golden parachutes for corporate insiders and vast fortunes for financiers has led to a dangerous dependency that has handed China tremendous leverage, which China is now starting to make use of. (And why not? Wouldn’t the U.S. start using the same leverage if it could?)

A long-time U.S. correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous for obvious reasons recently shared his experiences with parts shortages and price increases from previously reliable suppliers in China. Here is his account of the disruptive shift in the supply chain of essential parts from China to the U.S.

China is laying siege to the USA by slowing down production and delivery of goods. It doesn’t take much to hang up US production, just one missing item can do it. So much stuff is sourced through China they can affect all supply chains. Semiconductors are just the canary–because the chains are so long and complex, and specialized materials are required, etc. But it is happening everywhere.

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“No Resistance” to Price Increases, by Wolf Richter

With the exception of global bond markets and their central bank props, the inflationary psychology is taking hold. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

The Restaurant Industry Reacts to a Messed-Up Economy Plagued by Shortages & Transportation Snags.

These reports are coming from all directions, from small mom-and-pop operations to large corporations: Input costs are surging, wages that companies have to pay to attract workers are rising, transportation costs are surging amid driver shortages, supply chains are tangled up and there are delays and bottlenecks, and suppliers suddenly can’t deliver because they’ve run out of something, and companies are furiously juggling these issues, and they’re raising their prices to make up for those higher costs, and there is no resistance to these higher prices.

Consumers mostly just pay whatever – when before, higher prices would have entailed the loss of some customers and some revenues, which might have forced companies to back off those prices.

Chipotle Mexican Grill was the latest company to confirm this phenomenon of higher costs and higher prices, and no resistance by consumers to higher prices.

It had raised prices by 3.5% to 4% in order to deal with higher labor costs, and so far, there has been “no resistance” to higher prices, CFO Jack Hartung told analysts during the earnings call today.

Turns out, those price increases, originally designed to pay for higher labor costs, will now be eaten up by higher raw material costs and the costs associated with the staffing shortages at suppliers, Harting said, adding, “It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Q3 is going to be challenged by several industry-wide issues.”

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Outsourcing The Production Of Virtually Everything Has Brought Us To The Brink Of A Nightmare Scenario For The U.S. Economy, by Michael Snyder

Off-shoring, outsourcing, and just-in-time inventories are cost effective when everything goes right, but they can be a nightmare when things go wrong. From Michael Snyder at theeconomiccollapseblog.com:

Many of the imbalances that are contributing to the nightmarish shortages that we are currently witnessing are not going to be solved any time soon.  Ever since I started The Economic Collapse Blog, I have been warning that outsourcing the production of just about everything and running massive trade deficits year after year would eventually have very serious consequences down the road.  Well, now we are officially “down the road”, and our incredibly foolish trade policies have put us in a very precarious position.  During the “good times”, being extremely dependent on the rest of the world to make stuff for us wasn’t a problem, but now it is rapidly becoming a national security issue.

For example, without a steady flow of computer chips, our society as it is formulated today simply could not function.  We need computer chips for our vehicles, for the trucks that transport all of our goods, for the farm equipment that produces our food, for the extremely sophisticated equipment in our hospitals and for the millions upon millions of electronic devices that connect to the Internet.

The global chip shortage has been a very painful reminder of how exceedingly dependent we have become on technology, and it has also shown us how unwise it was to outsource production of most of our chips to Asia.

Back in 1990, the United States produced 37 percent of all computer chips in the world.

Today, that number has fallen to just 12 percent.

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Inflation, Money And Supply Bottlenecks, by Daniel Lacalle

So-called supply bottlenecks are an effect of monetary inflation, not a cause. From Daniel Lacalle at dlacalle.com:

“The constant refinancing of debt from companies of doubtful viability also leads to the perpetuation of overcapacity because a key process for economic progress, such as creative destruction, is eliminated or limited”.

One of the arguments most used by central banks regarding the increase in inflation is that it is because of bottlenecks and that the recovery in demand has created tensions in the supply chain. However, the evidence shows us that most commodities have risen in tandem in an environment of a wide level of spare capacity and even overcapacity.

If we analyse the utilization ratio of industrial and manufacturing productive capacity, we see that countries such as Russia (61%) or India (66%) are at a clear level of structural overcapacity and a utilization of productive capacity that remains still several points lower than that of February 2020. In China it is 77%, still far from the 78% pre-pandemic level. In fact, if we analyse the main G20 countries and the largest industrial and commodity suppliers in the world, we see that none of them have levels of utilization of productive capacity higher than 85%. There is ample available capacity all over the world.

Inflation is not a transport chain problem either. The excess capacity in the shipping and transport sector is more than documented and in 2020 new capacity was added in both freights and air transport. Ships delivered in 2020 added 1.2 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of capacity, with 569,000 TEUs of capacity on ultra large container vessels (ULCV), ships with capacity for more than 18,000 TEUs, according to Drewry, a shipping consulting firm. International Air Transport Association (IATA) chief economist Brian Pearce also warned that the problem of capacity was increasing in calendar year 2020.

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Flexport: Trans-Pacific deteriorating, brace for shipping ‘tsunami’, by Greg Miller

Between Covid-19 restrictions and massive fiat debt issuance, supply lines are frayed and the effects are ratcheting throughout the economy. From Greg Miller at freightwaves.com:

US importers face even more extreme delays ahead as container capacity maxes out

The number of container ships stuck at anchor off Los Angeles and Long Beach is down to around 20 per day, from 30 a few months ago. Does this mean the capacity crunch in the trans-Pacific market is finally easing? Absolutely not, warned Nerijus Poskus, vice president of global ocean at freight forwarder Flexport. “It’s not getting better. It’s getting worse,” he told American Shipper in an interview on Monday.

“What I’m seeing is unprecedented. We are seeing a tsunami of freight,” he reported.

“For the month of May, everything on the trans-Pacific is basically sold out. We had one client who needed something loaded in May that was extremely urgent and who was ready to pay $15,000 per container. I couldn’t get it loaded — and we are a growing company that ships a lot of TEUs [twenty-foot equivalent units]. Price doesn’t always even matter anymore.”

Restocking driving volumes higher

Poskus said that trans-Pacific import volumes are still rising. He noted that January trans-Pacific imports were up 10% versus 2019 (comparisons to 2020 numbers are skewed by COVID) and 13.5% in February, then jumped 51% in March. “So, we’re now at 1.5 times pre-pandemic levels.”

With imports far outpacing retail sales growth, he attributed volumes to inventory restocking. “The restocking is actually affecting the trade even more than growth in demand. That tells me that this will last even longer. Let’s say U.S. consumer demand slows down in Q3 and Q4. That’s not expected, but even if it does, [capacity availability and rates] shouldn’t improve quickly, simply because of the huge restocking demand.”

Poskus also believes there is a growing export backlog piling up each day in Asia, awaiting available ship slots. If that backlog grows too big, he said, “I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen.”

As a result of the backlog and restocking demand, he thinks “prices will remain high and shipping will probably remain difficult for the rest of this year. And then after that, you have the peak for Chinese New Year in 2022.”

About to get even worse

He said that the situation today is the worst he’s witnessed — and he believes it’s about to get even more severe.

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Inflation Galore at Manufactures, amid Massive Shifts in Demand, Supply-Chain Snags, Shortages, Lack of Shipping Capacity. And They’re Passing it On, by Wolf Richter

Screwed up supply chains from the coronavirus response and out-of-control fiat debt instrument creation and debt monetization are leading to inflation. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

For now, the story is that it’s just temporary.

For now, the story is that the sudden and massive shifts in the economy in 2020 have caused shortages and distortions in the goods-producing sectors and in shipping and trucking, as consumer spending has shifted from services – such as flying somewhere for vacation and spending oodles of money on lodging and restaurants and theme parks – to goods, particularly durable goods.

The story is that prices are rising because components and commodities are in short supply, and supply chains are dogged by production issues, and are facing transportation constraints, as demand for those goods has suddenly surged. And that all this is temporary.

And the Fed has said it will ignore inflation for a while, that it will allow it to overshoot, and only when it overshoots persistently for some unknown amount of time and becomes “unwelcome” inflation – “unwelcome” for the Fed – that it will try to tamp down on it.

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Where’s the Beef? – Not on the Horizon, by Tom Luongo

The cattle market has long lead times, which means if there’s a shortage of beef, it will take a while to adjust, even if the lockdowns and business closures are lifted. From Tom Luongo at tomluongo.me:

The reports continue to come in that there’s a real problem with the U.S. food supply. From McDonald’s reviewing their supply chain for beef to the pleas of ranchers already staring at feeding issues with last year’s poor harvests the signs are there for a major supply dislocation in beef going forward.

Kroger is limiting the amount of beef and pork people can buy. My local Winn-Dixie has had limits on large cuts of pork for the past couple of weeks. Pork loins have been gone for weeks now, so no pork jerky for us, which is a tragedy.

Now Wendy’s, which doesn’t use frozen beef, is reporting more than 20% of their stores are out of beef.

Stephens analyst James Rutherford noted 18% of Wendy’s restaurants were “completely sold out of beef items as of Monday evening,” reported Bloomberg.

“By our count 1,043 Wendy’s units were selling zero beef items yesterday evening,” but within the figure, about 128 restaurants were still selling beef chili. Rutherford added that the shortage varies across the country and said some restaurants still have full menus, while states like Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Connecticut, and New York are “fully out of fresh beef.” The note also said Wendy’s is “more exposed” to meat shortages because of its reliance on fresh beef compared with its competitors.

If you subscribe, like I do now, to the idea that this Coronapocalypse is mostly a cover story for the failures of the global financial and political system to usher in a new round of totalitarian control then destroying the most vulnerable, yet important, part of our food supply would be a key strategic goal.

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Next Comes The “Turbulent Twenties”, by David Stockman

Debt will only take you so far and it looks like global debt is just about out of gas. From David Stockman at peakprosperity.com:

The past 30 years of False Prosperity is over

The coronavirus is now exposing a far more deadly disease: Namely, the poisonous brew of easy money, cheap debt, sweeping financialization and unbridled speculation that has been injected into the American economy by the Fed and Washington politicians.

It has turned Wall Street into a dangerous gambling casino while leaving Main Street buried under mountainous debts, faltering investment in growth and productivity and the hand-to-mouth economics of spending more than you earn.

It has also left the American economy exceedingly vulnerable to external shocks. That’s because 80% of households have no appreciable rainy day funds and businesses have hollowed out their balance sheets and artificially extended their supply chains to the four corners of the earth in order to goose short-run profits and share prices.

However, this unprecedented fragility is becoming evident as public health authorities around the world aggressively move to contain the Covid-19 contagion. This will mean separating workers from their workplaces, consumers from the malls, diners from the restaurants, travelers from the airlines, hotels and resorts and much more like and similar disruptions to the supply-side of the economy.

In short, the world’s supply chains are buckling and freezing-up, thereby causing production and incomes to fall abruptly. In turn, shrunken incomes and cash flows will pull the legs out from under the edifice of debt and speculation that has been piled atop the American economy.

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Covid-19: Global Retrenchment Will Obliterate Sales, Profits and Yes, Big Tech, by Charles Hugh Smith

We’re just now seeing the economic effects of the coronavirus, but whether it’s truly a pandemic or an overblown scare fanned by governments and the media, those effects will be substantial. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:

If you think global demand will rebound as global debt and confidence implode, you better not be making consequential decisions based on Euphorestra-addled magical thinking.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the global economy was slowing for two reasons: 1) everybody who can afford it already has it and 2) overcapacity. One word captures the end-of-the-cycle stagnation: saturation.

Everyone who can afford a smartphone (or can borrow to buy one) already has one. Everyone who can afford an auto loan already has a car. Everyone who could afford an overpriced house already bought one. Everyone who can afford a tablet or laptop already has one. And so on.

This saturation isn’t just in the consumer market–the corporate market is equally saturated. Corporations leased too much space, bought more cloud services than needed, increased headcount willy-nilly, and increased capacity just as the market for their goods and services stagnated from global saturation of markets and debt.

Paint-daubed members of the Keynesian Cargo Cult (paging Chief Humba-Humba Paul Krugman) love to claim that “debt doesn’t matter” but in their frenzied dance around the campfire they ignore one little feature of debt: interest. In a world in which money is borrowed into existence, all new money issuance and all new debt (the same thing) accrues interest.

And as Japan has proven, even if the interest rate is near-zero, if you borrow relentlessly enough, the interest due even on near-zero interest rates soon dominates your entire income.

The Keynesian Cargo Cult, busy with their rock radios (the dials are painted on), ignore the sad reality that marginal borrowers default because they can’t afford to make the principal payments, never mind the interest, and the inevitable result is cascading defaults throughout the financial system.

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