WASHINGTON — Companies are bracing for another round of potentially debilitating supply chain disruptions as China, home to about a third of global manufacturing, imposes sweeping lockdowns in an attempt to keep the Omicron variant at bay.
The measures have already confined tens of millions of people to their homes in several Chinese cities and contributed to a suspension of connecting flights through Hong Kong from much of the world for the next month. At least 20 million people, or about 1.5 percent of China’s population, are in lockdown, mostly in the city of Xi’an in western China and in Henan Province in north-central China.
The country’s zero-tolerance policy has manufacturers — already on edge from spending the past two years dealing with crippling supply chain woes — worried about another round of shutdowns at Chinese factories and ports. Additional disruptions to the global supply chain would come at a particularly fraught moment for companies, which are struggling with rising prices for raw materials and shipping along with extended delivery times and worker shortages.
China used lockdowns, contact tracing and quarantines to halt the spread of the coronavirus nearly two years ago after its initial emergence in Wuhan. These tactics have been highly effective, but the extreme transmissibility of the Omicron variant poses the biggest test yet of China’s system.
Volkswagen and Toyota announced last week that they would temporarily suspend operations in Tianjin because of lockdowns.
Analysts warn that many industries could face disruptions in the flow of goods as China tries to stamp out any coronavirus infections ahead of the Winter Olympics, which will be held in Beijing next month. On Saturday, Beijing officials reported the city’s first case of the Omicron variant, prompting the authorities to lock down the infected person’s residential compound and workplace.
If extensive lockdowns become more widespread in China, their effects on supply chains could be felt across the United States. Major new disruptions could depress consumer confidence and exacerbate inflation, which is already at a 40-year high, posing challenges for the Biden administration and the Federal Reserve.
“Will the Chinese be able to control it or not I think is a really important question,” said Craig Allen, the president of the U.S.-China Business Council. “If they’re going to have to begin closing down port cities, you’re going to have additional supply chain disruptions.”
thrown the global delivery system out of whack. Transportation costs have skyrocketed, and ports and warehouses have experienced pileups of products waiting to be shipped or driven elsewhere while other parts of the supply chain are stymied by shortages.
Understand the Supply Chain Crisis
For the 2021 holiday season, customers largely circumvented those challenges by ordering early. High shipping prices began to ease after the holiday rush, and some analysts speculated that next month’s Lunar New Year, when many Chinese factories will idle, might be a moment for ports, warehouses and trucking companies to catch up on moving backlogged orders and allow global supply chains to return to normal.
But the spread of the Omicron variant is foiling hopes for a fast recovery, highlighting not only how much America depends on Chinese goods, but also how fragile the supply chain remains within the United States.
American trucking companies and warehouses, already short of workers, are losing more of their employees to sickness and quarantines. Weather disruptions are leading to empty shelves in American supermarkets. Delivery times for products shipped from Chinese factories to the West Coast of the United States are as long as ever — stretching to a record high of 113 days in early January, according to Flexport, a logistics firm. That was up from fewer than 50 days at the beginning of 2019.
The Biden administration has undertaken a series of moves to try to alleviate bottlenecks both in the United States and abroad, including devoting $17 billion to improving American ports as part of the new infrastructure law. Major U.S. ports are handling more cargo than ever before and working through their backlog of containers — in part because ports have threatened additional fees for containers that sit too long in their yards.
Yet those greater efficiencies have been undercut by continuing problems at other stages of the supply chain, including a shortage of truckers and warehouse workers to move the goods to their final destination. A push to make the Port of Los Angeles operate 24/7, which was the centerpiece of the Biden administration’s efforts to address supply chain issues this fall, has still seen few trucks showing up for overnight pickups, according to port officials, and cargo ships are still waiting for weeks outside West Coast ports for their turn for a berth to dock in.
work slowdowns and shipping delays.
“If you have four closed doors to get through and one of them opens up, that doesn’t necessarily mean quick passage,” said Phil Levy, the chief economist at Flexport. “We should not delude ourselves that if our ports become 10 percent more efficient, we’ve solved the whole problem.”
Chris Netram, the managing vice president for tax and domestic economic policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, which represents 14,000 companies, said that American businesses had seen a succession of supply chain problems since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Right now, we are at the tail end of one flavor of those challenges, the port snarls,” he said, adding that Chinese lockdowns could be “the next flavor of this.”
Manufacturers are watching carefully to see whether more factories and ports in China might be forced to shutter if Omicron spreads in the coming weeks.
Neither Xi’an nor Henan Province, the site of China’s most expansive lockdowns, has an economy heavily reliant on exports, although Xi’an does produce some semiconductors, including for Samsung and Micron Technology, as well as commercial aircraft components.
How the Supply Chain Crisis Unfolded
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The pandemic sparked the problem. The highly intricate and interconnected global supply chain is in upheaval. Much of the crisis can be traced to the outbreak of Covid-19, which triggered an economic slowdown, mass layoffs and a halt to production. Here’s what happened next:
A reduction in shipping. With fewer goods being made and fewer people with paychecks to spend at the start of the pandemic, manufacturers and shipping companies assumed that demand would drop sharply. But that proved to be a mistake, as demand for some items would surge.
Demand for protective gear spiked. In early 2020, the entire planet suddenly needed surgical masks and gowns. Most of these goods were made in China. As Chinese factories ramped up production, cargo vessels began delivering gear around the globe.
Then, a shipping container shortage. Shipping containers piled up in many parts of the world after they were emptied. The result was a shortage of containers in the one country that needed them the most: China, where factories would begin pumping out goods in record volumes
Demand for durable goods increased. The pandemic shifted Americans’ spending from eating out and attending events to office furniture, electronics and kitchen appliances – mostly purchased online. The spending was also encouraged by government stimulus programs.
Strained supply chains. Factory goods swiftly overwhelmed U.S. ports. Swelling orders further outstripped the availability of shipping containers, and the cost of shipping a container from Shanghai to Los Angeles skyrocketed tenfold.
Handel Jones, the chief executive of International Business Strategies, a chip consultancy, said the impact on Samsung and Micron would be limited, but he expressed worries about the potential for broader lockdowns in cities like Tianjin or Shanghai.
stay away from any vehicle collisions involving Olympic participants, to avoid infection.
Last year, terminal shutdowns in and around Ningbo and Shenzhen, respectively the world’s third- and fourth-largest container ports by volume, led to congestion and delays, and caused some ships to reroute to other ports.
But if the coronavirus does manage to enter a big port again, the effects could quickly be felt in the United States. “If one of the big container terminals goes into lockdown,” Mr. Huxley said, “it doesn’t take long for a big backlog to develop.”
Airfreight could also become more expensive and harder to obtain in the coming weeks as China has canceled dozens of flights to clamp down on another potential vector of infection. That could especially affect consumer electronics companies, which tend to ship high-value goods by air.
For American companies, the prospect of further supply chain troubles means there may be another scramble to secure Chinese-made products ahead of potential closures.
Lisa Williams, the chief executive of the World of EPI, a company that makes multicultural dolls, said the supply chain issues were putting pressure on companies like hers to get products on the shelves faster than ever, with retailers asking for goods for the fall to be shipped as early as May.
Dr. Williams, who was an academic specializing in logistics before she started her company, said an increase in the price of petroleum and other raw materials had pushed up the cost of the materials her company uses to make dolls, including plastic accessories, fibers for hair, fabrics for clothing and plastic for the dolls themselves. Her company has turned to far more expensive airfreight to get some shipments to the United States faster, further cutting into the firm’s margins.
“Everything is being moved up because everyone is anticipating the delay with supply chains,” she said. “So that compresses everything. It compresses the creativity, it compresses the amount of time we have to think through innovations we want to do.”
Ana Swanson reported from Washington, and Keith Bradsher from Beijing.
Vietnam and Switzerland as manipulators in its final report in 2020. The Biden administration’s report undid those designations, citing insufficient evidence.
Instead, the department said it would continue “enhanced engagement” with Vietnam and Switzerland and begin such talks with Taiwan, which includes urging the trading partners to address undervaluation of their currencies.
“Treasury is working tirelessly to address efforts by foreign economies to artificially manipulate their currency values that put American workers at an unfair disadvantage,” Ms. Yellen said in a statement.
Taiwan is the United States’ 10th largest trading partner in 2019, according to the United States trade representative. Vietnam is the 13th largest, and Switzerland is 16th.
The Treasury Department did not label China as a currency manipulator, instead urging it to improve transparency over its foreign exchange practices.
Treasury kept China, Japan, Korea, Germany, Italy, India, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand on its currency monitoring list, and added Ireland and Mexico.
Millions of workers are wondering what the office will be like when they go back after a long stretch of remote work. Employers are trying to prepare them for it.
IBM has designed a “reorientation” program to help its employees adjust when they return to a familiar setting but face a host of unfamiliar new procedures, the DealBook newsletter writes.
“It’s sort of like the first day of school,” said Joanna Daly, the company’s vice president of talent. “A day early, kids go and get to see the classroom or see how things work.”
This is needed, she said, because it is “not simply returning to the workplace as it existed before or the ways of working as it existed before.”
IBM made a “day in the life” video to show employees what to expect. One version of the 11-minute-long video seen by DealBook starts with “Paul” going back to one of IBM’s offices in Britain. To start the day, he goes through a self-screening checklist to assess potential exposure. He enters the office through designated entrances and picks up his masks for the day (and disinfectant wipes if he needs them). Arrows guide him through the halls and up one-way staircases. Only one person is allowed in the bathroom at a time.
The cafeteria is closed, so Paul must bring his lunch. He can’t use the whiteboards or marker pens in conference rooms (and he shouldn’t linger there longer than necessary). If Paul sees other IBMers not following the safety protocols, “It is OK to politely remind them,” the narrator assures him.
Along with the video, IBM produced an 18-page presentation depicting “Sonia’s’’ return to the workplace, serving as a friendly, cartoon-filled back-to-work manual.
“We’re looking now at how might anxiety manifests itself differently for different employees around being back together and then how do we address that,” Ms. Daly said, “through practical understanding of health and safety and also through having enough flexibility in the environment that everyone can kind of get used to coming back.”
IBM, which has 346,000 employees, hasn’t set a timeline for when its U.S. workers will return to the office. The company’s chief executive, Arvind Krishna, has said he expects 80 percent of them will work in a hybrid fashion when they do.
Mercedes-Benz unveiled an electric counterpart to its top-of-the-line S-Class sedan on Thursday, the latest in a series of moves by German automakers to defend their dominance of the high end of the car market against Tesla.
The EQS, which will be available in the United States in August, is the first of four electric vehicles Mercedes will introduce this year, including two S.U.V.s that will be made at the company’s factory in Alabama and a lower-priced sedan. Mercedes did not announce a price for the EQS, but it is unlikely to be lower than the S-Class, which starts at $94,000 in the United States.
The cars could be decisive for Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes, as it tries to adapt to new technology.
“It is important to us,” Ola Källenius, the chief executive of Daimler, said of the EQS during an interview. “In a way it is kind of day one of a new era.”
The EQS has a range of 770 kilometers or about 480 miles, according to Mercedes. If that figure is confirmed by independent testing, the EQS would dethrone the Tesla Model S Long Range Plus as the production electric car that can travel the farthest between charges. The Tesla currently occupies the No. 1 spot with a range of just over 400 miles, according to rankings by Kelley Blue Book.
The EQS owes its stamina to advances in battery technology and an exceptionally aerodynamic design, Mr. Källenius said. Some analysts question whether Mercedes can sell enough electric vehicles to justify the cost of development, but Mr. Källenius said, “We will make money with the EQS from the word ‘go.’”
The EQS is the latest attempt by German carmakers to show that they can apply their expertise in engineering and production efficiency to battery-powered cars. Vehicles are Germany’s biggest export, so the carmakers’ success or failure will have a significant impact on the country’s prosperity.
On Wednesday, Audi, the luxury unit of Volkswagen, unveiled the Q4 E-Tron, an electric SUV. The Q4 shares many components with the Volkswagen ID.4, an electric SUV that the company began delivering to customers in the United States in March. Though priced to compete with internal combustion models, neither vehicle offers as much range as comparable Tesla cars.
In the S-Class tradition, the EQS offers over-the-top luxury features like software that can recognize when a driver might be feeling fatigued and can offer to turn on the massage function embedded in the seat.
“You’re going to get S-Class level refinement in a very, very high performing electric car,” Mr. Källenius said. “That’s your buying argument.”
China on Friday reported that its economy grew by a remarkable 18.3 percent in the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.But the spike is as much a reflection of how bad matters were a year ago — when the China’s output shrank by 6.8 percent — as it is an indication of how China is doing now.
Global demand for the computer screens and video consoles that China makes is soaring as people work from home and as a pandemic recovery beckons. That demand has continued as Americans with stimulus checks look to spend money on patio furniture, electronics and other goods made in Chinese factories.
China’s recovery has also been powered by big infrastructure. Cranes dot city skylines. Construction projects for highways and railroads have provided short-term jobs. Property sales have also helped strengthen economic activity.
Exports and property investment can carry China’s growth only so far. Now China is trying to get its consumers to return to their prepandemic ways.
Unlike much of the developed world, China doesn’t subsidize its consumers. Instead of handing out checks to jump-start the economy last year, China ordered state-owned banks to lend to businesses and offered tax rebates.
Travel restrictions over the Lunar New Year holiday dampened consumer appetite and slowed the momentum of Chinese shoppers. But retail data on Friday showed that March sales were better than expected, raising hopes that consumers might be starting to feel confident.
By: Ella Koeze·Data delayed at least 15 minutes·Source: FactSet
Global stocks rose on Friday after a string of strong economic reports and company earnings.
The S&P 500 rose 0.2 percent, set for its fourth straight week of gains and another record. The benchmark had gained 1 percent in the week through Thursday and is up nearly 5 percent so far this month.
The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.6 percent on Friday, also climbing to a record, while the FTSE 100 in Britain climbed above 7,000 points for the first time since February 2020. Stock indexes in Japan, Hong Kong and China all closed higher.
China reported on Friday that its economy grew by 18.3 percent in the first three months of the year compared with the same period last year, when swathes of the country had been shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, data showed U.S. retail sales in March leapt past expectations, increasing by nearly 10 percent, and initial state jobless claims fell last week to their lowest level of the pandemic.
This week, banks including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase reported better-than-expected earnings, and their chief executives delivered upbeat economic forecasts.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes slipped to 1.57 percent on Friday. Last month, concerns that government spending would overheat the economy and lead to higher inflation sent bond yields shooting higher, to 1.74 percent on March 31. But those worries appear to have been soothed by central bank officials, who have repeatedly said they expect increases in inflation to be temporary.
Earlier this week, data showed that prices in the United States rose2.6 percent in March from a year earlier, a larger-than-normal increase partly because prices of some items fell in March 2020 as the pandemic took hold.
Another reason yields have drifted lower is a “remarkable” demand for bonds, ING, a Dutch bank, said. Recent Treasury bond auctions have received more bids than normal, and JPMorgan Chase sold $13 billion of bonds on Thursday, the biggest sale ever by a bank, according to Bloomberg.
“Cash has to go somewhere, and it can’t all go into equities,” the ING analysts wrote in a note to clients.
Twitter said on Thursday that it had blocked the account of James O’Keefe, the founder of the conservative group Project Veritas.
Mr. O’Keefe’s account, @JamesOKeefeIII, was “permanently suspended for violating the Twitter Rules on platform manipulation and spam,” specifically that users cannot mislead others with fake accounts or “artificially amplify or disrupt conversations” through the use of multiple accounts, a Twitter spokesman said.
In a statement on his website, Mr. O’Keefe said he will file a defamation lawsuit against Twitter on Monday over its claim that he had operated fake accounts.
“This is false, this is defamatory, and they will pay,” the statement said.
“Section 230 may have protected them before, but it will not protect them from me,” Mr. O’Keefe said, referring to a legal liability shield for social media. That shield, part of the federal Communications Decency Act, has become a favorite target of lawmakers in both parties.
In February, Twitter permanently suspended the Project Veritas account, saying it had posted private information. It also temporarily locked Mr. O’Keefe’s account.
To keep you watching, YouTube serves up videos similar to those you have watched before. But the longer someone watches, the more extreme the videos can become.
Caolan Robertson learned how making clever edits and focusing on confrontation could help draw millions of views on YouTube and other services. He also learned how YouTube’s recommendation algorithm often nudged people toward extreme videos.
Over more than two years, he helped produce and publish videos for right-wing Youtube personalities including Lauren Southern, Cade Metz reports for The New York Times.
Knowing what garnered the most attention on YouTube, Mr. Robertson said, he and Ms. Southern would devise public appearances meant to generate conflict. They attended a women’s march in London and, with Ms. Southern playing the part of a television reporter, approached each woman with the same four-word question: “Women’s rights or Islam?”
They often received a confused, measured or polite response, according to Mr. Robertson. They continued to ask the question and sharpened it. Ms. Southern, for example, said it would be difficult for Muslim women to answer the question because their husbands wouldn’t let them attend the march. That caused anger to build in the crowd.
“It appears in the videos that we are just trying to figure out what is going on, gather information, understand people,” Mr. Robertson said. “But really, we were trying to find the most incendiary way of making them mad.”
Ms. Southern described the situation differently. “We asked the question because we knew it was going to force people to question their own political views and realize the contradiction in being a hard-core feminist but also supporting a religion that, quite frankly, has questionable practices around women,” she said. And, she added, they used video techniques that any media company would use.
A court has awarded attendees of the infamous Fyre Festival approximately $7,220 apiece, nearly four years after they were left scrounging for makeshift shelter on a dark beach. The $2 million class-action settlement, reached Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York between organizers and 277 ticket holders from the 2017 event, is still subject to final approval, and the amount could ultimately be lower depending on the outcome of Fyre’s bankruptcy case with other creditors.
CBS is turning to a pair of outsiders to restore the fortunes of a news operation that trails its rivals at ABC and NBC. CBS said on Thursday that Neeraj Khemlani, a vice president at the publishing powerhouse Hearst, and Wendy McMahon, a former ABC executive, would succeed Ms. Zirinsky. The two will serve as presidents and co-heads of CBS News, a division that will be expanded to include local stations owned by the network.
Factories are whirring, new apartments are being snapped up and more jobs are up for grabs. When China releases its new economic figures on Friday, they are expected to show a remarkable post-pandemic surge.
The question is whether small businesses and Chinese consumers can fully share in the good times.
China is expected to report that its economy grew by a jaw-dropping double-digit figure in the first three months of the year compared with the same period the year before. The number is widely estimated by economists to be 18 percent to 19 percent. But the growth is as much a reflection of the past — the country’s output shrank 6.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with a year earlier — as it is an indication of how China is doing now.
A year ago, entire cities were shut down, planes were grounded and highways were blocked to control the spread of a relentless virus. Today, global demand for computer screens and video consoles that China makes is soaring as people work from home and as a pandemic recovery beckons. That demand has continued as Americans with stimulus checks look to spend money on patio furniture, electronics and other goods made in Chinese factories.
in the corporate sector, where many firms have borrowed beyond their means. Many economists are looking for signs of a broader recovery that relies less on exports and the government and more on Chinese consumers to juice growth.
A slow vaccination rollout and fresh memories of lockdowns have left many consumers in the country skittish. Restaurants are still struggling to bounce back. Waiters, shopkeepers and students are not ready yet for the “revenge spending” that economists hope will power growth. When virus outbreaks occur, the Chinese authorities are quick to put new lockdowns in place, hurting small businesses and their customers.
To avoid a wave of outbreaks in February, the authorities canceled the travel plans of millions of migrant workers for the Lunar New Year holiday, the biggest holiday of the year in China.
“China’s Covid strategy has been to crush it when it reappears, but there seems to be a lot of voluntary social distancing and that’s affecting services,” said Shaun Roache, chief economist for Asia Pacific at S&P Global. “It’s holding back normalization.”
Wu Zhen runs a family business of 13 restaurants and dozens of banquet halls in Yingtan, a city in China’s southeastern Jiangxi Province. When China began to bounce back last year, more people started coming to her restaurants for their favorite dishes, like braised pork. But just as she and her employees began preparing for the Lunar New Year, a new Covid-19 outbreak prompted the authorities to limit the number of people allowed to gather in one place to 50.
“It should have been the best time of the year for our business,” said Ms. Wu, 33.
This year, Ms. Wu decided that closing the entire business over the holiday would be cheaper. “If we want to serve Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner, the labor wage for one day is three times higher than the usual time. We save more money by just closing the doors and the business,” she said. It will be the second year in a row that the restaurants shut their doors over the holiday.
Ms. Wu inherited the business from her father two years ago and employs more than 800 people. Before the pandemic, three quarters of the business revenue came from big banquets for weddings and family reunions. She said business has yet to return to normal after months of crushing virus restrictions.
The setbacks facing small-business owners like Ms. Wu are also affecting regular consumers who are jittery about opening their wallets. According to Zhaopin, China’s biggest job recruitment platform, more jobs in hotels and restaurants, entertainment services and real estate are available than a year ago. But households are still being cautious about spending.
Families continue to save at a higher rate than they did before the pandemic, something that worries economists like Louis Kuijs, who is head of Asian economics at Oxford Economics. Mr. Kuijs is looking at household savings as an indication of whether Chinese consumers are ready to start splurging after months of being stuck at home.
“More people still seem to not go all the way in terms of carefree spending,” he said. “At times there are still some lingering Covid concerns, but there is perhaps also a concern about the general economic situation.”
Many families took on more debt last year as they borrowed to buy property and to cover expenses during the pandemic. China still largely lacks the kind of social safety net that many wealthy countries provide, and some families have to dip into savings for health care and other big costs.
Unlike much of the developed world, China doesn’t subsidize its consumers. Instead of handing out checks to jump-start the economy last year, China ordered state-owned banks to lend to businesses and offered tax rebates.
Retail figures on Friday will give a better sense of where consumers are picking up their old spending habits. But data from the first two months of the year already show that consumers like Li Jinqiu are spending less and saving more.
Mr. Li, 25, who recently got married, has a one-month-old baby at home. He had planned to work for the family business, but it has been hit by the pandemic and he doesn’t think there is much opportunity for him if he stays.
“The whole family has some sense of crisis,” Mr. Li said. “Because of the pandemic and because of family business, I have a sense of crisis.”
Mr. Li said he had received a job offer in sales at a financial firm in Beijing but had delayed the start date to help take care of his newborn. He said he once borrowed to spend on items like his $150,000 Mercedes. Now he drives a $46,000 electric car and has put off buying new clothes.