At Shanghai's port, a sea of containers has piled up.

Shanghai's lockout, according to JB Hunt, will cause problems for US ports again in July.


Covid lockdowns in Shanghai are threatening to wreak havoc for US ports, which are still struggling to recover from last year's gridlock and delays.

Since last year, supply chains have received "temporary reprieve" from shipping delays and manpower constraints, according to Shelley Simpson, chief commercial officer of US transportation company JB Hunt, who told investors on an April 21 earnings call.

However, there are risks: West Coast port workers are negotiating a new union contract, which might lead to strikes if negotiations fail. Furthermore, delays caused by the covid-lockdown in Shanghai, which is home to the world's biggest container port, might prolong the high shipping rates and supply shortages that afflicted the global economy in 2021.

"That will undoubtedly make its way back into the US this summer," Simpson said. "All it takes is a tiny bit of disruption to completely shift the environment."

A series of lesser delays led to last year's supply chain crisis, including covid-related lockdowns at the Chinese ports of Yantian and Ningbo and a stopped ship blocking the Suez Canal. The Shanghai lockdown has the potential to derail the overall recovery, extending the economic suffering into the middle of the year.

Ships moored in Shanghai's port

Shanghai is experiencing its worst covid outbreak since the outbreak began. Authorities responded by implementing a city-wide lockdown, keeping most inhabitants confined to their houses, although they also tried to reduce interruptions by requiring personnel to sleep at the port in a "closed loop" bubble.

Even still, ships are loading and unloading at a slower pace. Between March 12, the day before partial lockdowns in Shanghai began, and April 16, the volume of products shipped out of Shanghai dropped by 23%.

JB Hunt predicts that the current delays in Shanghai will spread to the US West Coast by July. "We expect it to get a lot worse as we move into the summer months," Simpson said, "especially with what's going on in the supply chain from an ocean standpoint or in China coming inward." "A lot of customers have talked to us about it."

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