The rebound in economic activity as coronavirus restrictions are eased has exposed shortages across supply chains, with companies scrambling to find workers, ships and even fuel to power factories, threatening the recovery.
Britain’s biggest chicken producer warned that the country’s 20-year cheap food binge is coming to an end and said food price inflation could hit double digits.
“The days when you could feed a family of four with a 3 pound ($4) chicken are coming to an end,” Ranjit Singh Boparan, owner of the 2 Sisters Group, said.
An acute shortage of warehouse workers, truckers and butchers as the world’s fifth-largest economy deals with Brexit as well as COVID-19 is exacerbating global strains.
Even in Japan, where weak growth has meant that prices of many things – as well as wages – haven’t risen much in decades, consumers and businesses are facing a price shock for basics such as coffee and beef bowls.
Japan’s core consumer inflation only stopped falling in August, snapping a 12-month deflationary spell. Economists and policymakers expect to see the recent price rises reflected in official data in the coming months.
With central bankers around the world on high alert and inflation in Spain, Ireland and Sweden hitting 13-year highs, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde repeated that the upswing in Europe is seen as temporary and said there were no signs that the recent surge is becoming embedded in wages.
“The impact of these factors should fade out… in the course of next year, dampening annual inflation,” Lagarde said.
Euro zone inflation is expected to hit 4% before the end of the year, twice the ECB’s target, and a growing number of economists see it remaining above target throughout 2022.
In the United States, President Joe Biden on Wednesday urged the private sector to help ease supply chain blockages that are threatening to disrupt the U.S. holiday season.
Biden said the Port of Los Angeles would join the Port of Long Beach in working round-the-clock to unload about 500,000 containers waiting offshore, while Walmart, Target and other big retailers would expand overnight operations to help meet delivery needs.
Dwindling power supplies suggest a bleak winter outlook in some parts of the world.
As northern China chills, coal prices held near record highs, with power plants stocking up on the fuel to ease an energy crunch that sent factory gate inflation in the world’s second-largest economy to an at-least 25 year high in September.
The power crisis, caused by shortages of coal, high fuel prices and booming post-pandemic industrial demand has halted production at numerous Chinese factories, including many supplying big global brands such as Apple Inc.
Weak demand is capping consumer inflation, however, forcing policymakers to walk a tightrope between supporting the economy and further stoking producer prices.
There are few signs of any reprieve in energy costs, with Brent crude oil futures above $84 a barrel on Thursday as expectations that soaring natural gas prices will drive a switch to oil to meet winter heating needs bolstered demand.
The International Energy Agency said the energy crunch could boost oil demand by half a million barrels per day (bpd).
“Higher energy prices are also adding to inflationary pressures that, along with power outages, could lead to lower industrial activity and a slowdown in the economic recovery,” the IEA said in its monthly oil report.
Top economic institutes cut their joint forecast for 2021 growth in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, to 2.4% from 3.7% as supply bottlenecks hamper output, confirming a Reuters story.
In response to the crisis, the White House has been speaking with U.S. oil and gas producers about helping to bring down fuel costs, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The average U.S. retail cost of a gallon of gasoline is at a seven-year high, and the U.S. Energy Department expects winter fuel costs to surge. Oil-and-gas production remains below the nation’s peak reached in 2019.
CHIPS STILL DOWN
Dutch navigation and digital mapping company TomTom , reporting a bigger than expected quarterly core loss, warned that supply chain problems in the auto sector could last until the first half of 2022.
A global shortage of semiconductor chips has forced carmakers still recovering from coronavirus disruptions to halt production again.
Italian-American vehicle maker CNH Industrial NV said on Wednesday it will temporarily shut several European agricultural, commercial vehicle and powertrain manufacturing facilities because of difficulties procuring components.
“Collectively we have underestimated how big the supply chain issues, and especially for semiconductor shortages, have been or have become”, TomTom Chief Financial Officer Taco Titulaer told Reuters.
Soaring demand is a boon for some, however: Taiwan’s TSMC , the world’s largest contract chipmaker, reported a nearly 14% jump in third quarter profit.
TSMC and Taiwan have become central to efforts to resolve the global chip shortage, which has also hit manufacturers of smartphones, laptops and consumer appliances.
Some companies, such as Toyota Motor Corp are intensifying efforts to restart production. The Japanese carmaker hopes to do so in December with a rebound in shipments from pandemic-hit suppliers, three sources told Reuters.
They said Toyota had asked suppliers to make up for lost production so it can build an extra 97,000 vehicles between December and March, possibly by adding weekend shifts.
In Britain, the owner of discount retailer Poundland warned that pressure on global supply chains has increased, with less raw materials availability leading to commodity price inflation.
Pepco Group said that had been compounded by constrained container capacity which significantly increased shipping costs.
But in some rare good news for consumers, Pepco said it won’t pass most of the higher costs on.
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