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‘I’ve Never Seen Anything Like This’: Chaos Strikes Global Shipping

  • March 07, 2021

Pressure built as Americans refashioned their spending. Deprived of vacations and restaurant meals, they bought video game consoles and pastry mixers. They outfitted their homes for remote work and distance learning.

Exercise equipment shipped by container from Asia to North America more than doubled between September and November, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to analysis by Sea-Intelligence, a Copenhagen-based research company. Shipments of stoves, ranges and cooking equipment nearly doubled in that span. Disinfectants increased by more than 6,800 percent.

“All of the stuff that’s been growing has been basically pandemic induced,” said Alan Murphy, the research group’s founder.

Viewed broadly, the volume of global trade dipped by only 1 percent in 2020 compared with the previous year. But that doesn’t reflect how the year unfolded — with a plunge of more than 12 percent in April and May, followed by an equally dramatic reversal. The system could not adjust, leaving containers in the wrong places, and pushing shipping prices to extraordinary heights.

Peter Baum’s company in New York, Baum-Essex, uses factories in China and Southeast Asia to make umbrellas for Costco, cotton bags for Walmart and ceramics for Bed Bath Beyond. Six months ago, he was paying about $2,500 to ship a 40-foot container to California.

“We just paid $6,000 to $7,000,” he said. “This is the highest freight rate that I have seen in 45 years in the business.”

In early September, he waited 90 days to secure space on a ship for a container of wicker chairs and tables.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/06/business/global-shipping.html

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