The World Is Still Short of Everything. Get Used to It.
PETER S. GOODMAN, KEITH BRADSHER
Like most people in the developed world, Kirsten Gjesdal had long taken for granted her ability to order whatever she needs and then watch the goods arrive, without any thought about the factories, container ships and trucks involved in delivery.
At her kitchen supply store in Brookings, S.D., Ms. Gjesdal has given up stocking place mats, having wearied of telling customers that she can only guess when more will come. She recently received a pot lid she had purchased eight months earlier. She has grown accustomed to paying surcharges to cover the soaring shipping costs of the goods she buys. She has already placed orders for Christmas items like wreaths and baking pans.
“It’s nuts,” she said. “It’s definitely not getting back to normal.”
The challenges confronting Ms. Gjesdal’s shop, Carrot Seed Kitchen, are a testament to the breadth and persistence of the chaos roiling the global economy, as manufacturers and the shipping industry contend with an unrelenting pandemic.
杰斯达尔的商店叫“胡萝卜种子厨房”(Carrot Seed Kitchen)，她的商店面临的挑战显示了打乱全球经济的混乱范围之大和持续时间之长，因为制造商和航运业都不得不应对没有减弱迹象的新冠大流行。
Delays, product shortages and rising costs continue to bedevil businesses large and small. And consumers are confronted with an experience once rare in modern times: no stock available, and no idea when it will come in.
In the face of an enduring shortage of computer chips, Toyota this month announced that it would slash its global production of cars by 40 percent. Factories around the world are limiting operations — despite powerful demand for their wares — because they cannot buy metal parts, plastics and other raw materials. Construction companies are paying more for paint, lumber and hardware, while waiting weeks and sometimes months to receive what they need.
In Britain, the National Health Service recently advised that it must delay some blood tests because of a shortage of needed gear. A recent survey by the Confederation of British Industry found the worst shortages of parts in the history of the index, which started in 1977.
英国的全民医疗服务体系(National Health Service)最近告诫民众，由于所需设备短缺，必须推迟一些血液检测项目。英国工业联合会(Confederation of British Industry)最近的一项调查发现了有史以来最糟的零部件短缺指数，该指数是从1977年开始发布的。
The Great Supply Chain Disruption is a central element of the extraordinary uncertainty that continues to frame economic prospects worldwide. If the shortages persist well into next year, that could advance rising prices on a range of commodities. As central banks from the United States to Australia debate the appropriate level of concern about inflation, they must consider a question none can answer with full confidence: Are the shortages and delays merely temporary mishaps accompanying the resumption of business, or something more insidious that could last well into next year?
全球经济前景中继续存在着异常的不确定性，“供应链大混乱”(Great Supply Chain Disruption)是这种不确定性的核心因素。如果短缺一直持续到明年，有可能会推动一系列大宗商品的价格上涨。从美国到澳大利亚的中央银行都在讨论对通货膨胀的适当关注程度时，它们必须考虑一个没有人可以完全自信回答的问题：短缺和延迟只是随着商业复苏而出现的短暂问题，还是可能会持续到明年的更严重隐患？
“There is a genuine uncertainty here,” said Adam S. Posen, a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee and now the president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. Normalcy might be “another year or two” away, he added.
“这里面确实存在不确定性，”曾任英国央行利率制定委员会成员、现为华盛顿彼得森国际经济研究所(Peterson Institute for International Economics)所长的亚当·S·波森(Adam S. Posen)说。他还表示，可能需要“一两年”时间才能恢复正常。
In March, as global shipping prices spiked and as many goods became scarce, conventional wisdom had it that the trouble was largely the result of a surplus of orders reflecting extraordinary shifts in demand. Consumers in the United States and other wealthy countries had taken pandemic lockdowns as the impetus to add gaming consoles and exercise bikes to their homes, swamping the shipping industry with cargo, and exhausting the supplies of many components. After a few months, many assumed, factories would catch up with demand, and ships would work through the backlog.
That is not what happened.
Just as the health crisis has proved stubborn and unpredictable, the turmoil in international commerce has gone on longer than many expected because shortages and delays in some products have made it impossible to make others.
At the same time, many companies had slashed their inventories in recent years, embracing lean production to cut costs and boost profits. That left minimal margin for error.
A giant ship lodged in the Suez Canal earlier this year, halting traffic on a vital waterway linking Europe to Asia for a week, added to the mayhem on the seas. So did a series of temporary coronavirus-related closures of key ports in China.
The world has gained a painful lesson in how interconnected economies are across vast distances, with delay and shortages in any one place rippling out nearly everywhere.
A shipping container that cannot be unloaded in Los Angeles because too many dock workers are in quarantine is a container that cannot be loaded with soybeans in Iowa, leaving buyers in Indonesia waiting, and potentially triggering a shortage of animal feed in Southeast Asia.
An unexpected jump in orders for televisions in Canada or Japan exacerbates the shortage of computer chips, forcing auto manufacturers to slow production lines from South Korea to Germany to Brazil.
“There is no end in sight,” said Alan Holland, chief executive of Keelvar, a company based in Cork, Ireland, that makes software used to manage supply chains. “Everybody should be assuming we are going to have an extended period of disruptions.”
In the West Midlands of England, Tony Hague has tired of trying to predict when the madness will end.
His company, PP Control & Automation, designs and builds systems for companies that make machinery used in a range of industries, from food processing to power generation. Demand for his products is expanding, and his roughly 240 employees have been working at full capacity. Still, he is contending with shortages.
他的公司PP Control & Automation为从食品加工到发电等一系列行业的机械制造公司设计和制造系统。对他产品的需求正在扩大，他的大约240名员工一直在满负荷工作。尽管如此，他面临着短缺的问题。
One customer in England that makes machines to seal packaged food has been hobbled by its inability to secure needed parts. Its supplier in Japan used to take four to six weeks to deliver key devices; now it takes half a year. The Japanese factory has struggled to secure its own electrical components, most of them produced in Asia and using computer chips. Auto manufacturers’ desperation to secure chips has made those components harder to obtain.
“It’s definitely getting worse,” Mr. Hague said. “It hasn’t bottomed out yet.”
For the global economy, shipping is at the center of the explanation for what has gone awry.
As Americans enduring lockdowns filled basements with treadmills and kitchens with mixers, they generated extra demand for Chinese-made factory goods. At the same time, millions of shipping containers — the building blocks of sea cargo — were scattered around the globe, used to deliver protective equipment like face masks.
The container shortages were exacerbated by delays in unloading cargo at American ports, because workers stayed home to slow the pandemic’s spread.
Then, in late March, came the fiasco in the Suez Canal, the pathway for about 12 percent of the world’s trade. With hundreds of other ships blocked, the impact played out for months.
In May, China shut down a huge container port near Shenzhen — one of the nation’s leading industrial cities — after a small outbreak of a coronavirus variant. The port did not resume operations for several weeks.
Then, in the middle of August, Chinese authorities shut down a container terminal near the city of Ningbo, after one employee tested positive. Ningbo is the world’s third-largest container port, so its closure held the potential to snowball into a global event, even threatening the supply of goods to American stores in time for Black Friday sales around Thanksgiving.
By Wednesday, the Ningbo terminal was back in operation. But China’s decision to close it because of a single Covid case resonated as a warning that the government might shut other ports.
In Miami Beach, Eric Poses, an inventor of board games, developed a product aptly named for the pandemic: The Worst-Case Scenario Card Game, a title that could also be applied to his experience relying on China to make and ship the product.
在迈阿密海滩，桌面游戏的发明者埃里克·波赛斯(Eric Poses)开发了一款以大流行现状命名的产品：最坏情况纸牌游戏(The Worst-Case Scenario Card Game)，这个名字也可以用于他依靠中国来制造和运输产品的经历。
Before the pandemic, shipping a 40-foot container of games from Shanghai to the warehouse he uses in Michigan cost $6,000 to $7,000, Mr. Poses said. His next shipment, scheduled to leave China in mid-September, will cost at least $26,000. And his freight agent warned him that the price will most likely rise, to $35,000, because of rail and trucking difficulties in the United States.
Cheap and reliable sea transport has long been a foundational part of international trade, allowing manufacturers to shift production far and wide in search of low-wage labor and cheap materials.
Columbia Sportswear has typified the trend, expanding from its base in Portland, Ore., to become a global outdoor gear brand. The company has relied on factories in Asia to make its goods and taken the ocean cargo network for granted.
“It’s sort of like, everyday when you get up in the morning, you turn on the lights and the lights always work,” said Timothy Boyle, Columbia’s chief executive.
But the price of moving goods to the United States from Asia is up as much as tenfold since the beginning of the pandemic, and Columbia might have to reconsider its traditional mode.
“It’s a question of how long this lasts,” Mr. Boyle said.
Some trade experts suggest that product shortages are now being exacerbated by rational reactions to recent events. Because of the pandemic, humanity now knows the fear of running out of toilet paper. That experience might be driving consumers and businesses to order more and earlier than previously needed.
Ordinarily, the peak demand for trans-Pacific shipping begins in late summer and ends in the winter, after holiday season products are stocked. But last winter, the peak season never ended, and now it has merged with the rush for this holiday season — reinforcing the pressure on factories, warehouses, ships and trucks.
“We have this vicious cycle of all the natural human instincts responding, and making the problem worse,” said Willy C. Shih, an international trade expert at Harvard Business School. “I don’t see it getting better until next year.”
“我们有这样一种恶性循环，所有的人类本能反应，让问题变得更糟，”哈佛商学院国际贸易专家史兆威(Willy C. Shih)说。“我看不出来情况会在明年之前好转。”