“The ports shutting down is worse than Lehman Brothers failing. Both can lead to catastrophic failures of all counterparties depending on them. But with Lehman, the government could just print tons of money to flood the banks with liquidity,” Ryan Petersen, chief executive officer of logistics company Flexport, warned Friday after touring logjammed U.S. West Coast ports.
Petersen said his firm hired a boat captain to tour Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, which account for 40% of all shipping containers entering the U.S. He said during the three-hour loop through the ports, passing every single terminal, “we saw less than a dozen containers get unloaded.”
He said the twin ports have hundreds of cranes but only “seven were even operating and those that were seemed to be going pretty slow.” He said the bottleneck that everyone now agrees on is “yard space” and that “terminals are simply overflowing with containers, which means they no longer have space to take in new containers either from ships or land. It’s a true traffic jam.”
“The bottleneck right now is not the cranes. It’s yard space at the container terminals. And it’s empty chassis to come clear those containers out,” he said.
The twin ports appear to be at a standstill even though President Biden issued a directive last week to keep them operating on a 24/7 basis. But that seems to be not enough because the president has weighed the use of the National Guard to alleviate constraints.
Petersen suggested a “simple plan” for the state and federal government to partner with ports, truckers, and everyone else in the chain to create temporary container yards that stack empty ones up to six high instead of the limit of two. This would “free up tens of thousands of chassis that right now are just storing containers on wheels. Those chassis can immediately be taken to the ports to haul away the containers.”
He said it was necessary to correct this bottleneck because it’s a “negative feedback loop that is rapidly cycling out of control that will destroy the global economy if it continues unabated.”
Goldman Sachs’ Jordan Alliger agreed and told clients to monitor the ports. He said, “the most notable congestion indicator is the number of container ships anchored waiting to offload their freight returned to 70 ships anchored on October 18 after hitting a record of 73 on September 19, compared to their pre-pandemic average of 0-1 ships.”
Petersen is right. The monetary wonks at the Federal Reserve are way over their heads. They can’t print their way out of this shipping crisis they helped sparked by unleashing unprecedented monetary injections into capital markets over the last 19 months. The circulatory system of the global economy risks breaking as port congested worsens.