Broken supply chains are causing inflation. For how long?

Mitchell Hartman Sep 30, 2021
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Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday. "We have no control" over supply bottlenecks, he said. Al Drago/AFP via Getty Images

Broken supply chains are causing inflation. For how long?

Mitchell Hartman Sep 30, 2021
Heard on:
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday. "We have no control" over supply bottlenecks, he said. Al Drago/AFP via Getty Images
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​​In case you haven’t heard, there are some supply chain issues. All kinds of stuff are stuck in production or in transit all over the place.

That’s causing shortages, which, in turn, are stoking inflation — which is worrying businesses, consumers, economists and the Federal Reserve.

​On Thursday, Fed Chair Jay Powell told a House committee that the central bank thinks the recent surge in prices is “a function of supply-side bottlenecks over which we have no control,” but also that “high inflation will abate because … the factors that are causing it are temporary and tied to the pandemic and the reopening of the economy.”

​But it is taking longer to clear up than many experts, including Powell, predicted.

As the pandemic wore on, many consumers were flush with cash and eager to buy stuff. Then, global supply chains hit bottlenecks — because reopening isn’t smooth — and prices spiked as buyers competed for limited supplies.

Now, the Fed has recognized these problems are likely to be with us for a while, according to Adam Posen at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“The so-called transitional inflation coming out of the pandemic was probably going to last longer than the less than a year the Fed seemed to be forecasting,” he said.

The delta variant of the coronavirus is still raging, hitting particularly hard at factories and ports in Southeast Asia that send container ships full of computer chips and consumer goods to the U.S.

But “that’s probably about as bad as supply chain interruption gets,” Posen said. “Probably the worst has already happened on this front, and it’s going to unwind and get better from here.”

So, how long might it take for supply chains to get ironed out and meet business and consumer demand, taking upward pressure off prices?

Nyree Hinton, who tracks food, apparel and other consumer staples at Third Bridge, said it’ll be well into next year.

“It’s probably going to be a Q1, a Q2, and a Q3 and a Q4 issue,” Hinton said.

These supply chain problems and price spikes could turn out to be “transitory,” said Mark Zandi at Moody’s Analytics.

“If the pandemic is still raging, causing people to be sick and not go in to work and shutting down factories and Chinese ports, when the pandemic goes away, these problems will go away,” Zandi said.

On the other hand, “if the price spikes and inflation and shortages are happening even though the pandemic is winding down, and I’m wrong,” he said, “then yeah, I think at that point, expectations could shift, even before 2023 or 2024.”

Setting up higher inflationary expectations and forcing the Fed to raise interest rates — before the economy has fully recovered.

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