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Supply Lines: 224 billion masks

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Supply Lines

China’s export boom headed into the new year on a tear and all indications are that it may continue for several more months.

Consider this: Chinese factories exported 224 billion masks from March through December, or almost 40 for every man, woman and child on the planet outside of China, Li Kuiwen, an official from the General Administration of Customs, told reporters Thursday. The shipments were worth 340 billion yuan ($53 billion), which is about 2% of all Chinese exports in 2020.

Chinese firms also exported almost 100 billion-yuan worth of other personal protective equipment like hospital suits, gowns and ventilators, Li said. In total, exports of medical equipment and medicines rose 31% last year compared with 2019, he said.

It’s not just health supplies. The surging coronavirus in advanced economies is fueling demand for all the stuff people need to work, learn and entertain from home.

Asia’s China-led trade bonanza is eventually expect to wane, provided outbreaks are tamed and demand for services like tourism and hospitality rebound. For now though, China’s factories are running full tilt, which will make Monday’s release of the country’s fourth-quarter GDP data even more interesting to dissect.

Fed Sees ‘Challenges’

Meanwhile, several major economies are importing way more than their ports can handle. The situation is getting so dire that cargo congestion on the high seas, once considered a seasonal phenomenon, is starting to look more like an economic headwind.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday made another notable mention of rising shipping costs in the national summary of its Beige Book report the U.S. economy. In the Chicago district, “e-commerce sales remained strong, but growth plateaued, in part because of shipping challenges.”

Such difficulties are only worsening on the West Coast, where nearly three dozen container ships are waiting to dock at the two ports in Los Angeles.

Similar flotillas have formed around Europe’s main gateways for goods trade — Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg. Felixstowe, a key container port in the U.K. that’s been roiled by Brexit backlogs, says “current high volumes are expected to last well into the first quarter.”

Enda Curran in Hong Kong

Charted Territory

China’s export boom continued into December, pushing the trade surplus to a record high in the month and bolstering what is already the world’s best-performing major economy.

Today’s Must Reads

  • British bottlenecks | DB Schenker suspended deliveries to the U.K. due to significant problems caused by post-Brexit red tape. Meanwhile, Britain’s split from the European Union is driving up the cost to export U.K. goods using an air-freight method that companies have relied on.
  • China trouble | The U.S. will bar entry of all cotton products and tomatoes from China’s Xinjiang region, where it says Beijing is oppressing Muslim-minority Uighurs. European businesses operating in China are grappling with economic decoupling between the U.S. and its Asian rival. Still, U.S. officials ultimately decided against banning American investment in Alibaba and Tencent.
  • New name | China has appointed a veteran of trade talks as the Ministry of Commerce’s top negotiator, filling a ministerial-level position that was vacant for two years, as the country prepares for the incoming Biden administration.
  • Border closure | South Africa shut its land borders, a decision that was preceded by a week of pandemonium as hundreds of thousands of foreigners tried to return to work after the December holidays.
  • Out sick | More than 1.9 million workers called out sick in December. Absenteeism is snarling up supply chains and could lead to lost production and inflation-inducing bottlenecks.
  • Stephanomics podcast | Covid-19 isn’t just a deadly threat to human life; it’s also a mental health catastrophe with economic consequences. Fear of illness, strict lockdowns, isolation from friends and family, rising unemployment and collapsing businesses weighs on the hearts and minds of people all across the globe.

On the Bloomberg Terminal

  • Rising friction | U.K. companies may face rising costs in the short term due to additional red tape, and risk losing access to the EU market in the long term, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.
  • Recovery path | The return to service of the 737 Max supports plans for suppliers to gradually raise production, setting a recovery path for one of the most important programs in the supply chain, Bloomberg Intelligence says.
  • Use the AHOY function to track global commodities trade flows.
  • Click HERE for automated stories about supply chains.
  • See BNEF for BloombergNEF’s analysis of clean energy, advanced transport, digital industry, innovative materials, and commodities.
  • Click VRUS on the terminal for news and data on the coronavirus and here for maps and charts.

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