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Running out of everything

The early 2020s will be remembered for ever more as the time of the Covid pandemic. But a subsidiary label might be that of the shortages years.

It’s not so much a question of what’s in short supply as what isn’t. The world is suffering a lack of many valuable materials and services, from semiconductor chips, cement, lumber and commodities to water, workers and housing. It’s a theme that regularly crops up in this publication – see Oliver Telling’s news story or Alex Newman’s “golf belt” comment piece on the housing crisis – and it’s reflected in stories elsewhere such as in the FT’s newly arrived Dublin correspondent lamenting the lack of available properties to rent in that city (which at the start of August was at its lowest level on record), car buyers shocked by the soaring price of second-hand vehicles, now in demand because of difficulties supplying new ones, employers struggling to fill vacancies, particularly those for HGV drivers – and this is as big a problem in the US as it is in the UK – through to German manufacturers expressing concern about the supplies bottleneck. Chip shortages don’t only impact obvious users such as car, games consoles and phone manufacturers. There aren’t many companies that don’t use technology somewhere along the line and their inability to replace and install equipment will impact their ability to operate at full capacity and to grow.

Covid-19 is behind a lot of the problems. Factories closed down for lengthy periods, container ships stayed in port, demand for deliveries soared, new drivers could not be trained and home workers needed lots of tech to enable them to work, causing demand to outstrip supply. But it’s not the only reason. Brexit is also a factor in the truck driver crisis. But many of the issues have been brewing for years as demand for certain goods and materials has kept rising strongly.

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