Nerd Pandemic’s Celebrity – The New York Times

“Ship Event: The Miniseries” is a podcast that wouldn’t have existed had it not been for the pandemic, which has prompted consumers to start ordering sofas and computer screens so voraciously that factories and ports around the world can’t keep up.

But as furniture delays and car shortages began to dominate the headlines last year, Eitan Buchmann and his colleagues at Freightos, a global shipping platform, saw an opportunity.

“You never pay attention to something until it’s broken,” said Mr. Buchmann, the company’s chief marketing officer. “Part of it was the dizziness that people care about.”

Fritos, which began its podcast on supply chains in November, is among a handful of data providers whose once esoteric business and offerings are spotlighted by a pandemic that has rewrote the rules of global commerce and the economy.

Not that Mr. Buchmann was happy because everything felt broken. But he saw that Fritos could help. He and his colleagues had a wealth of shipping data and experience at their disposal, and began to think of ways to share it with the world, producing an index of ocean container travel times, releasing the podcast and increasing media exposure.

What would have been a landmark moment may have carried on well into 2022. Nothing – not shipping routes, not consumer spending, not the labor market and certainly not inflation – seems to be behaving the way it did before the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020.

Inflation is running at its fastest rate in 40 years, and data next week is likely to show prices rose more than 8 percent in the year to March. Supply chains remain strained, employers are desperate to fill vacancies, and Americans have surprised economists by spending directly through rapid price increases and rampant uncertainty.

Researchers and policy makers are still blind, and they and the general public turn to experts like Mr. Buchmann as they try to map a new map of a changing economic landscape.

“A very eclectic circle of informed individuals have found supply chains to be interesting before, but it has not been a widely shared passion,” said Phil Levy, chief economist at Flexport, a freight forwarding and customs brokerage. The masses, relatively speaking, are now having fun.

According to a profile maintained by Bloomberg, Mr. Levy has compiled 26 unique media signals so far this year, after 26 in both 2021 and 15 in 2020. Suddenly, it seems like every economist and writer is a business analyst, trying to find out What might happen to supplies and prices.

“Usually, when one makes a prediction, you look at past experiences,” said Mr. Levy. “That has changed with the pandemic.”

The revolution began in the toilet paper aisle. At the start of the pandemic, consumers suddenly started shopping differently. Nobody needs a coffee or a manicure; Everyone wanted new furniture for the home office.

When the government sent out frequent stimulus checks, offered more generous unemployment insurance and families spent more time at home, Americans spent money on goods rather than services that took up a large portion of their budgets before the pandemic. Even with the aid waning and business returning to something close to normal, the demand for things has remained extraordinarily strong.

The world’s ships, ports, and factories declined early in the pandemic, unable to fully catch up. The situation was only exacerbated by unexpected disturbances such as the stumbling of a giant cargo ship in the Suez Canal. The Ever Givene Foundation spent six non-moving days, drawing global attention to the fragility of supply chains and trans-oceanic trade — and increasing demand for experts who can explain it.

“That was a turning point in the fame of shipping,” Mr. Buchmann fondly recalls.

For Mr. Levy and his colleagues, the situation wasn’t funny, per se – the ban was poised to cause problems for customers – but it did spark a flurry of memes in Flexport’s internal messaging channels. (One of the images still lingering in his memory was an image of the stranded ship overlaid with the words “I told you not to listen to Waze’s directions.”)

Ever Geffen stands as a symbol of a larger phenomenon in pandemic economics: disruptions continue to unfold, further alienating an already struggling system. The mismatch between supply and demand stoked inflation, which surprised policymakers both because it was so fast and because it proved to be long-term.

And the turmoil extends beyond the realm of shipping.

Companies can’t find enough workers, in part because the pandemic appears to have accelerated the demographic transition. The baby-boom generation, who were entering retirement age, have left the job market in droves — and it’s not clear if they will return. Parents who deal with unpredictable child care have also left the workforce. Employers are grappling with the possibility that workers are in the midst of a “big resignation,” perhaps encouraged by the savings collected during the pandemic. The shortage in the labor market has given them an opportunity to demand higher wages and better working conditions.

As the coronavirus era enters its third year, economic puzzles abound: Will these workers return? Will America’s appetite for new sofas wane? Is there any price consumers won’t pay for cars?

Fiona Gregg doesn’t know all the answers. But she has data that may allow her — and others — to get a little closer to what they otherwise would.

“I am now getting incoming requests from asset managers in Germany, from all levels – our Federal Reserve, the White House, etc,” said Ms. Gregg, director of consumer research and co-chair at JPMorgan Chase Institute. .

Early in the pandemic, the institute focused on one metric that was of huge importance to many people: what people could spend. The widely cited chart uses Chase data to show how much cash households in different income bands have in their checking accounts in near real time, and Wall Street policy makers and econometricians alike use it to gauge the purchasing power of different groups of consumers.

“We now have a ‘request data’ button, and people are asking for it on all sides,” Ms. Gregg said.

She and her team have also written about the small effect that expanded unemployment benefits have had on keeping job seekers at home—a work that has found its way into major news outlets. Mrs. Greg can feel the effect of her growing pandemic fame: “Friends I haven’t been in touch with in a long time said, ‘Hey, great to see you in my morning feed. “

Surprising data celebrities react to attention in different ways. Ms Gregg, who has been at the institute since 2014, believes that increasing public awareness of its data will spur new academic research even as the pandemic wanes.

Mr. Buchmann of Freightos believes that mainstream interest in shipping will fade, but he believes that economists and companies will remain more aware of supply chain issues than they were before.

“We are in a part of the economy that we believe is the foundation of society,” he said, noting that this was a moment to “spread the shipping gospel.”

And for Mr Levy at Flexport, whose team was just forming at the start of the pandemic, a return to some sort of normality – whatever that means, and whenever that happens – would be welcome.

“We are keen to get to the point where we think about supply chains,” he said, rather than regularly asking hedge funds, central banks, major international organizations and governments to assess when his team would consider back-up at ports to fade, when container backlogs are normalized or for index updates Ocean Delivery Timing for Flexport.

But it is not clear when some forms of normality will return. Supply chains are still in shambles. The labor shortage has shown no clear sign of fading, and policymakers are anxiously awaiting signs that inflation is abating, but has so far accelerated.

Port stops and delays have shown signs of abating, but the war in Ukraine is raising the prices of oil and other commodities. It also disrupts air transport, as planes fly around Russian airspace and carry lighter cargo to make longer flights more expensive, and threatens to disrupt global food supplies, especially grain.

Mr Buchmann said it could take anywhere from six months to a year for supply chains to return to any sort of normality – the “ship event” has yet to be completed.

In fact, it is possible that even once the capacity begins to recover, the ship will still stand.

Perhaps companies are investing a lot in new ships and planes, bringing the world to an end in a new era of oversupply – what people like to call the “whip effect,” said Mr. Buchmann. If so, listeners may just need a podcast for that.

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