So, along with increased demand putting the physical world under pressure, and the blockage of an important trading route, there are also not enough people and trucks to handle the containers when ships do roll in, all adding to the delays and difficulties of moving things around the world.
When trying to explain how we ended up with supply constraints, it’s impossible not to mention the COVID-19 virus, because it has had a significant impact. As previously mentioned, one reaction to the pandemic has been governmental stimulus, which has created a number of ripple effects. More concretely, COVID-19 has affected operations at ports around the globe – especially in China, one of the world’s key production hubs. “The Chinese zero-case policy on COVID-19 is making it difficult to keep supply chains efficient, because when there’s a new series of cases in China, they tend to close down pretty large parts of the particular region where the cases are happening,” says Garnry.
The shortage to rule them all
Struggling to ship goods around the world is a major challenge. But struggling to supply the most crucial component in today’s technology goods is arguably a much bigger issue.
Semiconductors – also called integrated circuits or microchips – are used in a wide range of goods and products, including electronics. The semiconductor shortage – like the others we’ve described – has been caused by a variety of snowball effects, including bad weather in Texas, trade disputes between China and the US, and especially the COVID-19 pandemic. But this shortage is more significant, constraining sales of some of our most in-demand goods. In that sense, the semiconductor shortage is the real Grinch, which will steal the most popular Christmas presents even before they’re produced. “The semiconductor shortage is impacting everything from Nintendo to car production and PlayStations. iPhone production has also been cut by as many as 10 million units due to these constraints. So, even if you wish for it, and you want it and it's cool, you can't get it,” says Garnry.
And if you’re wishing for a new car, semiconductors can also spoil the day. Car manufacturers, who buy lower margin semiconductors, were late in ordering chips after the economy didn’t collapse due to the pandemic. The semiconductor industry had already found willing buyers thanks to high demand for graphics cards for gaming and crypto, as well as chips used in data centres and computers. Car manufacturers were therefore put at the back of the line and have ever since scrambled to get priority, causing car production to be reduced due to lack of semiconductors, meaning that there are a lot of cars that are almost ready to be shipped, but can’t be because they are missing this one component,” says Garnry.