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Brooke Sutherland

The U.S. Supply-Chain Crisis Is Already Easing

Progress is still slow and too many boats are waiting at the ports, but many problems have at least stopped getting worse.

This ship is coming in.

This ship is coming in.

Photographer: Bing Guan/Bloomberg

The supply-chain crunch appears to have already peaked in the U.S. When I first wrote this in mid-October, it felt like a bold assessment. Over the past two years, just about anything that could go wrong with global supply chains has gone wrong, from volatile swings in demand, a wave of extreme weather events and even a container ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal. But evidence keeps piling up to suggest that the U.S. is slowly but surely making progress in easing freight congestion and supply shortages. 

Global average ocean freight rates for a 40-foot container have now declined for eight straight weeks, according to data released Thursday from maritime advisory and research firm Drewry. Spot pricing for the busy Shanghai-to-Los Angeles trade route has bounced around more but is still down about 19% from its September peak. Meanwhile, the number of containers lingering for longer than nine days at the Port of Los Angeles has dropped by about a third since the hub announced a plan in October to start fining ocean carriers for excessive dwell times, Executive Director Gene Seroka said this week. The threat alone seems to have driven meaningful improvement, so the ports of L.A. and Long Beach have delayed the penalties (which start at $100 a day and rise in $100 increments) until at least later this month. An influx of additional sweeper ships used to pick up empty containers is also helping to clear dock space for new cargo, while local officials have agreed to temporarily increase the number of containers that can be vertically stacked in nearby warehouses and container yards.