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Are We Underestimating the Supply Chain Crisis as a Threat to the Global Economy?

By Rachel Warren, Jason Hall, and Toby Bordelon – Nov 2, 2021 at 6:00AM

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Three investors weigh in.

The supply chain crisis is impacting people all over the world, and it doesn't look anywhere close to ending. In this segment of Backstage Pass, recorded on Oct. 22, Fool.com contributors Jason Hall, Rachel Warren, and Toby Bordelon discuss some of the factors driving the supply chain crisis and whether this could have a long-term impact on the U.S. economy as a whole. 

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Jason Hall: I saw an interesting tweet, I shared this with you, guys, in our pre-show chat. I'm going to just do a quick screen share. I'm not going to read through the whole thing, but I'm going to encourage people to find it. I'll drop the link to it in our Slido. Essentially it's a story of Ryan Peterson who's an executive for logistics company, who did a boat tour of the city of Long Beach, Long Beach harbor.

This is the largest port structure in the US. It is a major, major port. The ports of LA and Long Beach are enormous. But what he focused on, what he highlighted is, where the constriction points are. Where are the bottlenecks? A really interesting thing he talked about is how there's over a 100 of these giant cranes at the Port of Long Beach. He sat there and looked at dozens of cargo ships, container ships lined up, and he saw six of these cranes running.

Six out of over a 100. What he learned is, as he talked to more people and explored what's going on, is you have the problem of empty containers. It's like a major bottleneck. They take a chassis and they put their container on it, these inter-modal containers and then the truck leaves the port and takes it to wherever it goes from there. In Southern California, there's actually a lot of assembly that happens, so they empty the container. Now they have an empty container, what do you do with an empty container?

Take it back to the port? Nope, port's full, they don't have room for empty containers. I can just drop it here in the lot for the yard. No, regulations you can only stack them too high, you don't have anymore room for them. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of the chassis that connect to the trucks, that pull the trailers that have empty containers on them and they can't get the container off to go pick up more containers.

It's just this weird little bottleneck that he talked about. It just got me thinking about this. If we could just take a few minutes and talk about it because we got about six or seven minutes left in the show. Guys, are we underestimating the supply chain logistics mess as a threat to the economy. Rachel?

Rachel Warren: Yeah, I guess it depends how you are thinking about it. I think yes and no. I don't think it does any good to panic about it. But I don't really think there's a simple fix either. I think you have what really can only be described as this perfect storm right now because you have this just complete mess with the supply chain logistics globally right now, which out of a host of factors is somewhat being fueled by the worker shortage.

Jason Hall: Truck drivers, they can't get drivers. President Biden is talking about cutting the National Guard loose to have military service that have these trucks. It's crazy.

Rachel Warren: It's insane, and of course, the worker shortage also has a direct impact on the economy, and then we have the inflow and outflow of goods, which is also an essential aspect of a well-functioning economy and that is being stalled right now. I do think it could have a significant impact. It was interesting because I did a little reading up on this and I saw a story by CNBC and apparently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce did a survey of local chamber of commerce leaders.

According to that survey, 90% of respondents said that the labor shortages were limiting economic growth in local areas. One of those major lags that I think we've seen that a lot of people think of is the semiconductor shortage. The Secretary of Commerce recently said at a conference that, that situation in and of itself, which is just one very small part of the supply chain logistic issues, she said "this is one I feel confident saying it's not going to be fixed in a month or two, or six, or 12 months". That's again this one very small aspect.

I think this is something that could carry on for a few years. I really hope that in the next six months we start to see a significant difference, but I don't think we should underestimate the long-term impact it could have on the economy, for sure.

Jason Hall: Our colleague, Nick Rossolillo was on the last hour and we were talking about some of the semiconductor companies and he follows that space pretty closely and his expectations is like that's going to take a couple of years. It's definitely concerning for those parts. But it's in a way, it's like there's a good part of the problem too, because so much of it is about demand.

Rachel Warren: Right?

Jason Hall: That's the positive come out of all of this, Toby.

Toby Bordelon: Yeah, I think that's right. I do have concerns. I think it gets better but, like you guys said, it's going to take a while. I'm hearing some companies, that manufacturers and transportation companies say like the crunch we have now goes into next year at least, beyond the holidays. Some people are saying 2023, look over a year right before it really starts to get substantially better. We don't know, but I think you need to assume it drags on passing the year. I think if you're a CEO, and you're smart and most of them are to be honest, if you're a CEO of a company probably you're not stupid.

I think they need to just accept that. I think most companies are starting to do that, they're saying like, "This is our reality. How do we plan around it? How do we adapt to this? Let's assume it's going to go on for a while and do what we need to do to continue to deliver our products and services in this environment, whatever that is going to take." I think, personally, for all of us as individuals, I think you might want to do your Christmas shopping earlier this year. I think that's one takeaway.

Jason Hall: Yeah.

Toby Bordelon: Right. Don't wait for Black Friday if you've got kids who like to cry when they get disappointed. 

Jason Hall: Is it going to be a Black Friday, or else we actually going to see this retailers go into the black, they don't have anything to sell us.

Toby Bordelon: [laughs] That's a good point. That might be bad for retailers, but I think there's some stuff there, and you certainly want it to be under your tree, not on your neighbor's. I'm just saying, thinking about or you talked about, it's not about stuff. It's about experience, it's about making memories. Maybe this is the year that you introduce that concept to your kids because who knows. Kidding aside, I think within our own households you make the assumption that this is going to be an issue for a little bit and do what you need to do.

Whether that's shopping earlier for Christmas or whether that saying, "You know what, maybe when I order toilet paper from Amazon (AMZN -8.43%), I get it two weeks earlier and say right, just assume it's going to take you longer to get stuff." If you're throwing a Halloween party, don't assume you can order on October 28th and get all the stuff in that you need, and time for that. You got to have to plan in advance.

Assume there's going to be some delays and there might be some delays, and this adapt, we had a whole year last year where we did nothing but adapt to the new situation. I think we can adapt to this. It just requires a recognition of reality, and then taking the proper steps based on that.

Jason Hall: Yeah, just be flexible. Be kind, I think that's a big thing. We especially we need to be the folks and retailer. There's just-

Toby Bordelon: Yeah, they can't control if there's nothing coming off the trucks and so on. What can they do.

Rachel Warren: That's it.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Toby Bordelon owns shares of Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2022 $1,920 calls on Amazon and short January 2022 $1,940 calls on Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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