Daily Business Briefing

June 21, 2021, 11:12 a.m. ET

June 21, 2021, 11:12 a.m. ET

Credit…Martin Pollard/Reuters

SHANGHAI — Dozens of huge container ships have been forced to drop anchor and wait. Freight rates have surged. Stores in the United States and Europe find themselves with understocked shelves, higher prices or both.

The blockage of the Suez Canal in March? No, there is another disruption in global shipping. This time, the problem lies in Shenzhen, a sprawling metropolis adjacent to Hong Kong in southeastern China.

Global shipping has been disrupted by the pandemic for months, as Western demand for goods made in Asia has outstripped the ability of exporters to get their containers onto outbound vessels. But the latest problem in Shenzhen, the world’s third-largest container port after Shanghai and Singapore, is making the difficulties even worse.

The shipping delays are related to the Chinese government’s stringent response to a recent outbreak of the virus. Shenzhen, a metropolis of more than 12 million, has had fewer than two dozen locally transmitted coronavirus cases, which city health officials have linked to the Alpha variant, which was first identified in Britain.

Shenzhen has responded by ordering five rounds of coronavirus testing of all 230,000 people who live anywhere near Yantian container port, where the first case was detected on May 21. All further contact between port employees and sailors has been banned. The city has required port employees to live in 216 hastily erected, prefabricated buildings at the docks instead of going home to their families every day.

The port’s capacity to handle containers plummeted early this month. It was still running at 30 percent below capacity last week, the port announced, and state-controlled media said on Monday that full recovery may require the rest of June.

“A few weeks into a very substantial port congestion in Yantian caused by a Covid-19 outbreak, supply chain disruptions continue to be very present in global trade,” Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping line, said in a statement on Thursday.

Long lines of container ships awaiting cargo bound for North America, Europe and elsewhere have had to anchor off Shenzhen and Hong Kong as captains now wait as long as 16 days to dock at Yantian. Small vessels mounted with their own cranes have been ferrying many containers straight from riverfront factory docks in the Pearl River Delta to container ships near Hong Kong, as exporters try to bypass delays at Yantian.

“It looks like rush hour — there’s a lot of ships waiting,” said Tim Huxley, the chairman of Mandarin Shipping, a container shipping line based in Hong Kong. He predicted that sorting out all of the shipping delays at Yantian and elsewhere could take the rest of this year.

The Suez Canal was blocked for almost a week by the Ever Given container ship in March, while Yantian coincidentally halted all loading of export containers for six days early this month. But Yantian’s problems have now dragged on much longer. Simon Heaney, the senior manager for container shipping research at Drewry Maritime Research in London, said that the global transportation disruption caused by the Yantian port problems was similar to the Suez Canal blockage, although differences between the two incidents make any statistical comparison difficult.

The average cost of shipping a 40-foot container from East Asia to Europe or North America has roughly quadrupled in the past year. Rates have soared upward this month with the Yantian difficulties.

Analysts and airline executives have expressed optimism in recent weeks that demand for travel is strong.
Credit…Nitashia Johnson for The New York Times

Airline ticket sales fell a little in May after rising steadily in the first four months of the year, according to a firm that tracks bookings, suggesting that demand for tickets for summer travel might not be quite as strong as airlines had hoped.

Consumers spent more than $5 billion for flights within the United States in May, a 4 percent drop from April and 20 percent lower than the same month in 2019, according to an analysis based on the Adobe Digital Economy Index. The estimates are drawn from website tracking data from six of the top 10 U.S. airlines. The airlines sold more than $21 billion in domestic tickets from January through May.

It is not clear why bookings were lower in May and whether the trend has continued into June. But analysts and airline executives have expressed optimism in recent weeks that demand for travel is strong. The number of people flying has risen relatively steadily since January, according to the Transportation Security Administration. On Sunday, the T.S.A. screened 2.1 million passengers at airport checkpoints, the most in a single day since the pandemic began.

Other countries are increasingly opening up, too. United Airlines said it set booking records each of the past three weeks for flights across the Atlantic Ocean, and the European Union urged its member states on Friday to lift a ban on nonessential travel for Americans.

People are also buying more tickets for later in the year than they were this time in 2019, the year before the pandemic took hold. Bookings for travel in November and December are up 30 percent compared with sales at this time in 2019.

In a securities filing earlier this month, American Airlines said strong summer sales helped it generate a cash profit in May for the first time in more than a year. Delta Air Lines has said it expected leisure travel within the United States to be fully restored this month.

Several of the most popular destinations this summer are in Hawaii, according to Adobe. Other popular stops include Bozeman, Mont., Nantucket, Mass., Las Vegas, Richmond, Va., and Orlando and Fort Myers in Florida.

Most analysts and airline executives expect that a full recovery will take years — airport traffic is still down about 20 percent from 2019 — but hotels are faring much better. Slightly more people booked hotel rooms in April and May than in the same months in 2019, according to the index, which is based on data from eight of the top 10 U.S. hotel chains.

People are also spending more on travel related goods. Luggage sales, for example, were up 9 percent in May, compared with the same month in 2019, and sales of camping gear were up 130 percent.

  • Stocks on Wall Street rebounded on Monday, snapping back from the S&P 500’s worst week since February. Last week’s 1.9 percent drop came as projections showed most Federal Reserve officials expected interest rates to start to rise in 2023.

  • The index was up more than 1 percent on Monday, while the Dow Jones industrial average rose 1.5 percent and the technology-heavy Nasdaq composite rose 0.8 percent. The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes climbed to 1.47 percent from 1.44 percent on Friday.

  • Bitcoin was down 3.7 percent to $32,562 as the call from Chinese authorities to crack down on mining and trading of the cryptocurrency continues.

  • Asian stocks closed sharply lower on Monday, following losses in European and American indexes on Friday. The Nikkei 225 closed 3.3 percent lower and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong dropped 1.1 percent.

  • Most European stock indexes rose. The Stoxx Europe 600 climbed 0.7 percent, after dropping 1.6 percent on Friday.

  • Shares in Morrisons, a large British supermarket company, jumped 32 percent on Monday after the grocer said it had rejected an offer to be bought by an American private equity firm. The firm, Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, had offered the buy the company for 230 British pence a share, 29 percent above Friday’s closing price. Shares in other supermarket companies also rose with Sainsbury’s up 3.9 percent, the best performer in the FTSE 100.

Eshe Nelson contributed reporting.

The meatpacking industry was a flash point during the pandemic as thousands of workers fell ill, many of them fatally.
Credit…Benjamin Rasmussen for The New York Times

Smithfield Foods was one of the first companies to warn that the country was in danger of running out of meat as coronavirus infections ripped through processing plants in April 2020 and health officials pressured the industry to halt some production to protect workers.

Now, a lawsuit filed last week by Food and Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group, accuses the giant pork producer of falsely stoking consumer fears and misleading the public.

The suit says the nation was never in danger of running out of meat. It claims there were ample supplies in cold storage, while at the same time pork exports to China, in particular, were surging. The suit was filed in Superior Court in Washington, where a law allows a nonprofit group to sue on behalf of consumers without needing to show that they suffered direct harm.

“This fear mongering creates a revenue-generating feedback loop,” Food and Water Watch said in its lawsuit. “It stokes and exploits consumer panic — juicing demand and sales — and in turn, provides the company with a false justification to keep its slaughterhouses operating at full tilt, subjecting its workers to unsafe workplace health and safety conditions that have caused thousands of Smithfield workers to contract the virus.”

Smithfield defended its safety efforts while criticizing the consumer advocacy group. “The advocacy organizations who make these claims have a stated goal of dismantling the efforts of our hard-working employees, who take great pride in safely producing food products,” Keira Lombardo, Smithfield’s chief administrative officer, said in a statement.

The meatpacking industry was a flash point during the pandemic as thousands of workers fell ill, many of them fatally. Smithfield and other companies mounted an aggressive advertising campaign to highlight their worker safety efforts and to emphasize the industry’s important role in feeding the nation.

Despite these assertions, Food and Water Watch, which is represented in its lawsuit by Public Justice, a legal advocacy group, points out that Smithfield was cited by regulators for failing to adequately protect workers at its plants in California and South Dakota.

In her statement, Ms. Lombardo said, “Our health and safety measures, guided by medical and workplace safety expertise, have been comprehensive.”

Rental car prices have skyrocketed as travel has resumed.
Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

The Federal Trade Commission is warning travelers about schemes that lure them into booking phony car rental reservations through fake customer service numbers and websites, Ann Carrns reports for The New York Times.

Rental cars have gotten scarce and prices have risen. That may leave customers vulnerable to bogus offers that appear to provide the car not only that they want but at a seemingly more reasonable rate, said Emily Wu, a lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission’s division of consumer and business education.

The sequence may start when a shopper searches online for a general term like “cheap rental cars,” said Amy Nofziger, director of victim support for the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

  • They call the number that shows up in the search, thinking it belongs to a legitimate rental company.

  • The fake rental agency typically will insist that the caller reserve by paying with a gift card or prepaid debit card, saying there is a special promotion or discount associated with the card.

  • Once the caller buys a card and relays its PIN to the bogus agency, the criminal can quickly convert the card to cash, and the consumer is left without the money or a car.

“A website that requires payment or asks for the purchase of a gift card, and to provide the card number and PIN, should cause alarm,” said Lisa Martini, a spokeswoman for Enterprise Holdings, which includes the Enterprise, Alamo and National brands.

Shell executives say they want to put their chips on technologies and businesses that may evolve into key cogs in the cleaner energy system that is emerging, like batteries.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Ben van Beurden, the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, has been talking about the need to cut emissions since 2017. In the view of some, though, Shell has dragged its feet.

The company’s clean energy investments since 2016 add up to $3.2 billion, Stanley Reed reports for The New York Times, while it has spent about $84 billion on oil and gas exploration and development, according to estimates by Bernstein, a research firm.

“You cannot claim to be in transition when you only invest” such a small percentage of capital in new businesses, said Mark van Baal, founder of Follow This, a Dutch investor activist group.

All of the big oil companies, especially in Europe, share a similar dilemma. Their leaders see that demand for petroleum products is likely to eventually fade and that their industry faces growing disapproval, especially in Europe, because of its role in climate change. Shell is responsible for an estimated 3 percent of global emissions, mostly from the gasoline and other products burned by its customers.

Yet Shell and other companies still make nearly all their profits from fossil fuels, and they are naturally wary of shedding the bulk of their vast oil and gas and petrochemical assets, especially when the consumption of petroleum is forecast to continue for years.

Shell appears to be playing a longer, more cautious game than some rivals, like BP, that are pouring money into renewable energy projects. Shell executives seem to be skeptical about the profit potential of just constructing and operating renewable generation assets, like wind farms.

Shell executives say they want to put their chips on technologies and businesses that may evolve into key cogs in the cleaner energy system that is emerging. They want to not only produce clean energy but make money from supplying it to businesses like Amazon and retail customers through large, tailored contracts, or electric vehicle plug-in points or utilities that Shell owns. The investment numbers will increase, they say, to up to $3 billion a year of a total of about $20 billion annual capital expenditure.

“We are thinking ahead; where is the future going?” said Elisabeth Brinton, Shell’s executive vice president for renewables and energy solutions.

Source of Article:
Click Here for More of these Posts