Not Getting Better: Relentless Retail Inventory Squeeze amid Shortages & Supply Chain Chaos

Holiday selling season is going to be a mess: Look not for what you want but for what the store has.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

The holiday selling season is approaching, and a whole litany of weird shortages is ricocheting through the economy. Stuff suddenly gets hung up somewhere, on a ship, or in a port, and then ends up somewhere else, or it’s on backorder for months, as manufacturers are struggling with material shortages and in in Asia with Covid outbreaks that shut down factories for weeks at a time.

And stimulus-fueled demand in the US has been huge and relentless, while retailers are struggling with inventories, some more than others.

Catastrophic shortages at auto dealers got even worse.

Auto dealers, particularly new-vehicle dealers, are experiencing catastrophic shortages of popular models, as automakers have been getting blasted by semiconductor shortages that simply refuse to abate, leading to rotating shutdowns of assembly plants globally.

Auto dealers are the largest retailer segment, with their sales normally accounting for over 20% of total retail sales, and with their inventories normally accounting for 33% of total retail inventories.

Inventories at auto dealers, measured in dollars, declined to a new multi-year low of $151 billion in August, according to data released by the Commerce Department on Friday.

The long-term dollar-increase in inventory levels that you can see in the chart above is a reflection of higher costs per vehicle in inventory. But the number of vehicles in inventory has been in the same range for two decades, as unit sales have mostly been below the peak achieved in the year 2000.

It’s even worse during the current shortages: Inventory in dollars – though it collapsed – is being inflated by the shift to high-end models as automakers are prioritizing the biggest money makers.

Sales of new and used vehicles also collapsed as there hasn’t been enough to sell. The industry-standard Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) of sales plunged five months in a row and is down by 33% from May:

And so the inventory-sales ratio – inventories divided by sales, a standard metric of supply that cancels out the impact of price increases – has been ticking up over the past three months from the May low, which had been the lowest in the data going back to 1992. The upticks were driven by sales that collapsed even faster than inventories:

Following the Lehman bankruptcy, new vehicle sales plunged, and the US was suddenly drowning in inventory, and the inventory-sales ratio spiked.

During the pandemic, the opposite occurred: Fueled by huge amounts of fiscal and monetary stimulus, retail demand surged and collided with production woes due at first to Covid issues and then the semiconductor shortage. And prices have spiked, with many new vehicles being sold at prices well above sticker, which is nuts.

Tight inventories at food and beverage stores.

The empty-shelves syndrome of the spring 2020 is largely gone though there are surprising shortages of weird stuff here and there that you didn’t think a supermarket would ever run out of.

Retail sales at supermarkets remain at lofty levels, well above pre-pandemic levels, as consumption has shifted from the workplace and restaurants around the workplace to the supermarket. Food and beverage stores have increased their stocks, and prices have increased too, and in dollar terms, inventories rose to a record $54.5 billion in July and remained at the level in August.

But sales at Food and Beverage Stores in August and September were up 20% from two years ago while inventories in dollar terms were up only 6%. And the inventory-sales ratio fell further, to 0.71, the lowest since June 2020. This shows that supermarkets, while benefiting from the surge in sales, are having trouble with their supply chains as well:

Clothing and accessory stores, record low supply.

When sales collapsed in March and April 2020, as many stores were locked down, unsold inventory piled up to a record $54 billion, and with few sales, the inventory-sales ratio spiked off the chart “literally” to 19 during that time.

But clothing sales recovered and then surged to new records, and were up 17% last month, from two years ago, and they ate up the excess inventory, and supply issues have worsened with some factories in Asia cycling through periodic shutdowns due to Covid.

In dollar terms, inventories have been stuck near the pandemic low, in August at $48 billion, same as in July. But the boom in sales caused the inventory-sales ratio and supply to plunge to record lows:

General merchandise stores, supply near record lows amid spike in sales.

Walmart, Costco, Target, Macy’s, etc. are in this category. Inventories in dollar terms, after the empty-shelves moment in the spring last year, rebounded and then continued to rise, and in August hit a new record of $87.2 billion, up 6% from two years ago.

But sales at these stores were up 23% from two years ago, which left the inventory-sales ratio near record lows.

Ever tighter inventory control and just-in-time delivery have slashed supply from 60 days in 2000 (inventory-sales ratio = 2) to about 42 days in 2018, 40 days in 2019. In August, supply was down to about 37 days:

Building materials and garden supply stores.

In dollar terms, inventories spiked to a new record in July and remained roughly at that level in August, at $67 billion. Sales at these stores spiked during the pandemic, but in recent months has started to back off and in August and September were down 10% from March, but were still up by 23% from two years ago!

These gyrations in sales – the huge spike and now the drop-off to still very high levels – are part of what caused the inventory-sales ratio to move erratically. But in August, the ratio was nearly back in the normal-ish range:

All retailers combined.

In dollar terms, inventories at all retailers in August, at $603 billion, were down 9.1% from two years ago, but total retail sales were up 18% over the same period. These far higher sales and lower inventories in dollar terms caused the inventory-sales ratio to plunge to 1.1 in August, roughly 33 days of supply, relentlessly stuck in the same range of all-time record lows:

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  167 comments for “Not Getting Better: Relentless Retail Inventory Squeeze amid Shortages & Supply Chain Chaos

  1. 2banana says:

    It’s all pointing to lots of shortages, even for the most basic items, for at least the next six months.

    There is nothing on the horizon that will help this situation. In fact, the are more thunderstorms approaching.

    • Paulo says:

      I sometimes buy stuff from Lee Valley Tools, a kind of high priced specialty tool and knick knack online store. There are some brick and mortar operations, but the nearest one to me is a 4 hour drive each way, so online it is. I took notice of an article today that said they were expecting up to 1 year delay for some of their goods. At the time I thought, “Just in time for no Christmas sales”.

      It seems every night there is a local news story about buying Christmas presents early and being flexible with expectations.

      • Jamie says:

        FYI a quick glance at woodworking tool site shows lots of product availability. I suspect though that they’re taking advantage of consumer fear and re-marketing lots of former “discounted, obsolete inventory specials” as “hot new holiday season specials”!

      • Ron says:

        Which leads to depressed sales ,lower stock prices ,everyone in America needs a want and needs list ,then realize you can do without most junk

      • Sierra7 says:

        Paulo (and others)
        Family owned small tech new equip/services business for more than 35 years in Silicon Valley states that the supply chain for their products is tied up in knots. Luckily they have many contacts for good used equipment that they are now purchasing in bulk to dismantle and utilize parts where at all applicable!

    • Brant Lee says:

      But most people will still manage to be broke soon. This Winter is going to be rough on most people with energy prices, etc. I don’t know if more stimulus free money is in the 3.5 tril ‘infrastructure’ bill, but there had better be come Spring.

      There was a used minivan full of kids with a past due dealer tag ahead of me in a fast-food drive-thru. I heard the cashier say $36 with bags of delight coming from the window. So many people ignore their bills to live for today. I’m glad we can bail them out.

  2. Anthony A. says:

    I guess we won’t be seeing the annual GMC Christmas commercial where the young couple surprise each other Christmas morning with a new truck and SUV parked outside in the snow?

    • Louis says:

      Maybe they’ll be replaced by calls to each other about an expired car warranty.

      • cas127 says:

        I always look forward to the commercial portraying the couple after the divorce, when each is trying to get the other’s car in the settlement…

  3. Old School says:

    I am going to be a Scrooge and say Christmas spending is for kids and don’t over do it. It’s a good time to think about the higher values in life and not more stuff. I like hand made gifts though. My brother took the time to make me a old style hickory walking stick about 5 ft long with a nice stained finish about 10 years ago. It will last a life time. I throw it in the car as a defensive weapon besides using it for hiking.

    • COWG says:

      I used to carry an old small child baseball bat in my car…

      Upgraded to a Glock….

      • Red says:

        That’s better then an old small child.

      • Todd says:

        Our neighborhood watch group responds to alarm calls from people reporting strangers looking into cars etc with a couple baseball bats, full sized. Make sure someone has a mitt and a ball in case the cops show up after you’ve done a few line drives. “Oh, we were just on the way to play ball”.

    • Wisdom Seeker says:

      Christmas will be an epic blowout this year. People have credit and are in a spending mood. They’ll buy whatever they can, even if a few items aren’t available.

      There’s simply more money pumping around in the economy than it can handle in transaction volume.

  4. Trailer Trash says:

    “from 60 days in 2000 … supply was down to about 37 days [in August]”

    Fulfillment people are pulling their hair out while the finance people are celebrating, since less money tied up in inventory (relative to sales) means more money for stock buybacks and management bonuses.

    I don’t see much incentive here for companies to end the tight inventories.

    • Eastwind says:

      Anecdote: ran into a trucker tonight who just got paid to “hold” for two days because he arrived with the load but “they” (whoever that is) were so backed up on unloading they had to pay him to sit. And that’s with other places screaming for drivers.

      The whole supply chain is a mess of lumps and air pockets and there’s no stability in sight, because the mess is end to end from raw material producers (miners who have to ship copper and coal to china), through Chinese manufacturing and to US consumers (where demand isnt yet stable or predictable), plus all the transport in between.

      Chaos Theory models it, there will be wild swings up and down for a long long time before everyone involved can get their little piece under control.

      Everyone involved needs to adjust to the new Chaotic normal and get used to planning further ahead and carrying more inventory until balance is achieved. And that initial intermediate inventory build will make it all worse until its complete.

      Then the work of slowly, carefully, paring back all that extra inventory can begin again until everything gets reoptimized. But thats years out.

      • Trucker guy says:

        Yeah he’s getting eaten alive sitting though. Detention pay is almost always a pathetic amount. Here’s 25 bucks to sit in your truck all day waiting on a dock.

        When JIT falls apart, everyone in the logistics side gets buried either by no pay/work or being worked to the bone.

        • Trailer Trash says:

          Eaten alive is right. While the driver is sitting there, they are still away from home and still having to buy meals.

          Plus it’s boring as hell to just sit around. Managers wonder why they can’t find drivers. If managers had started out on the docks instead of MBA school, they would know how these systems actually work and how to keep them moving along.

        • wkevinw says:

          My brother works for a major international freight forwarding/shipping company.

          I hear that every “labor-based” entity is holding out for higher pay for various reasons. I know that CA has some specific trucking issues because there are special requirements for trucks to be in CA. So some truckers won’t go to CA. Also, the labor in and around the docks is scarce. Vaccine, mask and other mandates are not easy to comply with.

          This is typical in a dysfunctional, manipulated economy. The globalization of the labor market has made it so the lower paid jobs are not that worthwhile in the developed countries. By the way, many (most?) of these jobs are “essential”.

          Pretty predictable based on the stimulus disincentivizing work and top-down mandates hammering employees.

        • OlBuddy says:

          wkevinw “special requirements for trucks to be in CA”

          Carriers domiciled in California with trucks older than 2011 models, would be blocked from registration with the state’s DMV, according to California law. The incentive is to purchase electric trucks which do not exist.

          California’s infamous AB-5, the law that, as a sop to the Democrats’ beloved unions, killed the gig economy. Traditionally the ports have been served by Owner Operators who are non-union. But under AB-5 California has now banned Owner Operators. Just like the union longshoremen, union truckers work under a whole host of work rules that simply can’t accommodate crisis conditions like the ones in Los Angeles.

          No wonder there’s a shortage of truckers and hence goods, if and when in port.

      • Ron says:

        My boomer generation is retiring should have taught our kids about a hard day’s work,I forgot can’t make a decent living that way as song says don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys let them be doctor,s and lawyers or IT professionals

        • sunny129 says:

          ‘should have, could have’

          regrets of each generation! Go Figure!

        • The Wealth Effect Is A Ponzi Scheme says:

          We’ve learned all we can take from ur generation. Inherit a great economy, don’t pay the economies bills, manager class sell out worker class, destroy currency to wall paper over ur immoral and bankrupt decisions on ur way out the door while blaming millenials.


  5. MCH says:

    According to Business Insider, the supply chain crisis has peaked… that is according to some analyst at Jefferies. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

    Well, as long as we look past Christmas that is.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      The supply chain chaos has peaked every month for the past six months ;-]

    • Depth Charge says:

      The chip shortage was supposed to be resolved by the 3rd quarter of this year. Now we’re hearing it could be 2023. I’m going to go with “nobody f*****g knows.”

      • Winston says:

        As always. I’ve seen enough absolute destruction of CNBS, Marketwatch, etc., claims and predictions over time to know that.

    • Mark says:

      Business Insider peaked a couple of years ago ……

      • Depth Charge says:

        Business Insider never “peaked.” It’s called “failure to launch.”

        • MCH says:

          Nah, Blodget made out just fine, after committed fraud… excused, allegedly committing fraud, he went on to start a reputable publishing business that has made him rich.

          Paid a few million bucks in fine, and is worth several times that after he sold BI. Their daily headlines are what I live by. Because it tells you everything you need to know about what’s going on in the world without ever having to read any one of those articles.

  6. DawnsEarlyLight says:

    I keep getting ads for items on sale, but many say out of stock when I take look. Sounds like a version of ‘click bait’ to me!

    • Wolf Richter says:

      This stuff is getting funny. I checked a big car dealer’s inventory online (for this article). They had lots of vehicles online. And then when I wanted to buy the F-150 and the Mach E and the Bronco, turns out I’d have to order them…

      • COWG says:

        The completed assemblies are only available to the 84- month financing , no FICO crowd….

      • Charles Ponzi says:

        Can you please comment on the unerring ability of Elon Musk’s Tesla to crank out record numbers of vehicles. All the lights auto makers are suffering parts shortages but not Musk. This seems bizarre, even for Elon

        • Wolf Richter says:

          I have already commented on it. I don’t know either. I can see three possible reasons – and this is speculation, since no one is disclosing anything:

          1. Tesla is getting preferential treatment from chip makers, given that it has that huge plant in China, and some of the chip makers are in China.

          2. Tesla’s total production numbers are very small, compared to the big automakers, such as Toyota, GM, VW, and Ford, and it’s probably easier to procure the smaller number of chips it needs. The big automakers are getting a lot more chips than Tesla, but they’re not getting all they need. Small automakers in general have less trouble due to their small volume.

          3. Tesla might be using more modern chips for its components, such as mirrors and door locks, than other automakers do (cheap chips designed 25 years ago can handle that). And at least some of the shortages are in that area.

        • Massbytes says:

          From an article that I read over on another site and especially from the comments on the article, it appears that the semi conductor shortages were not uniform through all suppliers and types of them. Tesla was able to acquire a wide variety of them that were available and modify the firmware to do what they wanted. Most legacy manufacturers don’t have enough control of their hardware to do that. Tesla does.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Charles Ponzi,

          In addition to answers above.

          Elon Musk has that magic touch. That’s why Tesla is far more valuable than GM or Ford.

          Musk’s ownership of SpaceX and Starlink (that Elon Musk wifi, as its known). Also gives him special political connections that other automakers don’t have. Also because Tesla is growing, it gets priority access from many suppliers who are keen on future deals. Many countries and companies will actually neglect current customers (who are currently much bigger and who made them what they are), in favor of trying to get that extra money from certain new customers.

          Because Tesla is currently smaller, but more “in style” (for lack of a better term). You can allocate a portion of your supplies to them (and still partially/mostly supply your big contracts), in a selling point to other future prospective customers. You can even tell your shareholders, that now we are a Tesla supplier, that will definitely help share price and executives will probably get a bigger bonus because of it.

          Despite any nonsense about how companies are run for the sake of shareholders, you might have heard. Corporations are usually run for the sake of their executives.

    • Depth Charge says:

      That’s the new corporate scam. No inventory means no revenue. In a desperate move for income, they are selling items they don’t even have in order to still generate sales and revenue.

      • MCH says:

        This is like a version of Teslaing the new product. Throw it out there, tease it, get a rise and a pop and then drag out the launch slowly.

        Everyone figures if it works for Tesla, why not give it a shot with their product.

  7. Moon says:

    Yes, I 100% agreed with you point that all the shortages and inflation are the actual reason is Covid Pandemic and now a days i think it has become a part of our life. But, why are we not thinking that who is more disastrous Covid or Inflation?

  8. TenGallonHat says:

    I’ve been wondering about Black Friday deals… are companies like WMT, BB, etc. are getting their wares? Perhaps using smaller ports? BF/Cyber Monday are quite a large boon to retailers if not mistaken.

    Not much exciting going on in life… need to bargain-hunt………. waiting on ads…..

  9. Michael Gorback says:

    Just cut to the chase and read Taleb’s “Antifragile”. Everything anyone has to say here about the current state of affairs has already been said in that book.

    Then brush up on Austrian economics, which predicts the outcome which, as we all know, ends badly.

    For background, read about chaos theory and nonlinear systems.

    • Wisdom Seeker says:

      Thanks Michael! I’m working through Black Swan (belatedly) and finding it really valuable. I now have Antifragile queued up next. Fortunately it’s still in-stock!

      • Nacho Bigly Libre says:

        I had started with “Skin in the game”. His whole Incerto bundle is a must-read.

        He coined the term – “Intellectual Yet Idiot”. No lack of people who fit that description.

  10. Depth Charge says:

    The “just in time” inventory model, and the outsourcing of our production and supply chains, has been an abysmal failure. Instead of worrying about how and when those products will arrive, they should be working on an entirely new production model. Instead, greed will win out and nothing will change. The CEOs are so rich they couldn’t give a f***.

    • Confused says:

      If those CEOs were taxed at a top marginal tax bracket of 90 percent, they would know they can’t keep all the loot for themselves. Perhaps then they would care about the long-term health of the company and its shareholders.

      • Old School says:

        If you combine the 90% plus California top rate that’s more than 100% I think. I think there was a supreme court case saying that’s illegal.

      • Kurtismayfield says:

        The CEOs make all their money off stocks, and will avoid paying one penny of taxes on them when they sell.

        See: Peter Theil

        The entire system has been designed around those at the very top having the means to avoid taxes, at all costs. Because Senators and Congressmen are cheap.

        • Old School says:

          You know Congress is bought off when even the socialist has three homes.

  11. Mike says:

    It me.

  12. historicus says:

    Focusing on Xmas is ridiculous.

    How about lack of spark plugs, light bulbs, light switches, computer parts, printed circuit boards……F22 parts…..shall I go on?

    One big wake up call to America.

    • doug says:

      Christmas is the retail engine of this retail country. It is going to leave a huge mark.
      When an interstate gets backed up due to a wreck. Once the wreck is cleared, it can take a long while to get back up to speed. Supply chain is like that. There will be lots of stops and starts, and fender benders…

      • Depth Charge says:

        Might be time for companies to start looking for warehouse space, because when Halloween stuff arrives at Christmas, and Christmas stuff arrives during Easter, they’re going to have to save it for the following year.

    • Winston says:

      “One big wake up call to America.”

      Which won’t be heeded to the degree it should be for the same reasons the situation was allowed to develop in the first place – maximum efficiency and lowest costs for maximum profits along with allowed Chinese dumping to destroy foreign competition.

      Nothing at all wrong with maximizing efficiency except when a component of it allows a Communist authoritarian regime to hold you by the testicles because they produce almost everything you need including highly strategic minerals and products. I’ve seen a graphic of a LONG list of strategic minerals which we are 100% or close to that dependent upon China as the source.

      And when the current shortages are over it will be mostly back to business as usual. I heard an interview with one of the few US manufacturers of N95 masks during the PPE shortage early on in the pandemic who said that during a previous shortage during a major flu epidemic in the US he bought new machinery to increase production and hired 100 more workers. After the shortage was over, everyone went back to buying from China and he had to lay off the additional workers and was stuck with idle machinery. He said he would never do that again without guarantees from domestic buyers.

      • roddy6667 says:

        It’s easy to point the finger of blame at China, but nobody seems to be asking the question “why is America too expensive to compete in world trade”? If this does not change, the jobs will never rturn to the US.

        • OutsideTheBox says:


          The USA has high wages because it is one of the planet’s most expensive places to live.

        • Trailer Trash says:

          The huge cost of the medical machine is a big part of why labor costs are so high. It is an octopus trying to grab every dollar not pledged to banks and landlords.

        • Rowen says:

          Land costs, interests, and dividends are built into every step of the manufacturing process, from the factory buildout to the electricity paid to worker wages to health care costs.

      • sunny129 says:

        “One big wake up call to America.”

        Learn to more with less. Just like the people in developing Countries doing for decades! Beside food and shelter (medical & education) everything else is discretionary.

        Get to know the need from WANT – the perrenial problems of the American consumers! especially majority trying to BUY the stuff on credit!?
        Minimalists always survive. The rest keep complaining, moaning and whining. No sympathy from me. My last car lasted nearly 20 yrs.

        • OutsideTheBox says:

          So…..basically you are poor and are bragging about it ?

          Wow….just wow

        • Depth Charge says:

          “So…..basically you are poor and are bragging about it ?

          Wow….just wow”

          What a very scummy thing to say to a person. No class whatsoever.

        • OutsideTheBox says:


          Oh look….the carpenter speaks !

      • Sierra7 says:

        “Nothing at all wrong with maximizing efficiency except when a component of it allows a Communist authoritarian regime to hold you by the testicles….”
        The Chinese did this all on their own????
        “Corporate America” and their handmaiden politicians did most of the initial damage….while America “slept”!

    • Bet says:

      My car has been in the shop for ten days now waiting for a auto ignition switch. We are told they have no idea when they can get one. Thankfully we have another car to get about.

      • roddy6667 says:

        Have you tried a used car parts place? They are all in an online network. Better to have a used part than no car.

        • COWG says:


          A lot of newer cars have ignitions that are coded or chip required to a specific automobile… anti theft stuff…

          Sometimes replacing an ignition on some cars also requires other components to be replaced that match the new ignition… or key fobs won’t work, etc,,,,

          If you lucky enough not to require these things, good for you…

          If not, it can really be a nightmare and expensive, especially if you have to get a dealer involved…

    • MCH says:

      There is an easy, tried and true method to deal with these inflationary problems and shortages. No, I don’t mean raising interest rates, to be responsible and make sure that everyone can afford what’s needed. The real solution here is price control, but not just selectively targeted effort, more broad based across the board price control on everything. Then mandates to ban efforts to shrinkflate the problem away, for example a $3.99 box of cereal must always be a certain weight with specified amount of ingredients.

      Then control the demand by mandating how much average citizens can buy so that they don’t hoard. Oh and make sure everyone has smart phones that can digitally control how much they purchase.

      See easy solution. 😱

      • Directive 10-289.

        • buda atum says:

          Turkeys love this Christmas. Glad there’s a shortage

          Funny that some don’t know price control includes the control of wages, and mostly for low earners since the 1% can be paid in secrecy.

      • WES says:


        I know you are being sarcastic, but that ideal system is called communism! That means there is nothing worthwhile to buy, therefore no shortages!

        Experienced that first hand in Siberia in 1983. I went to the local store determined to buy something Russian. Anything!

        Even I had a very hard time selecting something to buy but I finally bought a plastic thermos.

        The nice thing about this Russian thermos was none of the parts of the thermos fitted together properly! If you held the top half, the bottom half fell off! If you held the bottom half upright, the drinking cup stayed on the top of the thermos! If you put liquid in the thermos, you had to keep it upright or all of the liquid would leak out pass the installed stopper! It neither kept anything cold nor hot. It was no better than a glass!

        In otherwords the perfect consumer good!

        Since the Russians would not buy it, there was never any shortages of themoses! However great for the factory responsible for meeting their state mandated monthly quota!

        Heers to Mother Russia’s good olde days!

        • MCH says:

          Have you ever seen the old Wendy’s commercial back in the late 80s where they made fun of eastern European fashion? Basically, when they had a fat lady prancing around the stage in the same clothing and a big flashlight (or something like it), announcing she had day wear, evening wear, etc, something about choice.

          That’s what my mind skipped to when I read the OP. Mandates, shortages, and such… but fortunately, my local WholeFoods doesn’t seem to have such a problem just yet.

        • Trailer Trash says:


          The US was a total command economy during World War II. Centralized planning for industrial production, rationing. price controls, the works. There was non-stop propaganda promoting war bonds, hate The Enemy, and plenty more. People who talked against the draft were arrested and jailed. Everything that today’s patriots claim to abhor.

          Words like “communism” used to have meaning and referred to the social relationships between those who control the means of production and those who do the work. It’s a shame when perfectly useful words become little more than insults to hurl back and forth.

  13. RightNYer says:

    Seriously. I’ve worked at many companies, and never do the “important” people take the full parental leave, male or female.

    • OutsideTheBox says:


      That’s because the “important” people can afford to hire nannies.

      You know, your statements wouldn’t hold up in a court of law. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

      Not half truths.

      • georgist says:

        Exactly. And they have a cleaner. And eat out more or get take-out. Dry cleaning.

        Their 24 hours and a regular person’s 24 hours are far from equal.

        They are not more efficient / hardy, they can afford to delegate.

  14. Max Power says:

    I guess the only good thing, such as it is, is that looking at the charts, the inventory trends appear to have bottomed out.

    One does have to wonder though how much of this demand was pulled forward (at least as far as durables are concerned). I mean, after all, how many refrigerators, bicycles, sofas, etc. does one family need to buy?

  15. phleep says:

    Time to think of another model, maybe, than being strung out on more stuff transferred in a narrow moment? And thus acting like a withdrawing junkie anytime it doesn’t appear (in increasing volumes)? I mean that for families and corporations. Something is lost when all slack (aka “inefficiency”) is wrung out of the system. When it is wrung out of the planet, the planet dies in a welter of nifty, timely, affordable junk.

  16. historicus says:

    So this will end up being one more reason to keep rates well below inflation..
    As things inflate….and purchasing agents tell suppliers…”I’ll take all ya got at that price.”
    The entire situation is about to feed on itself….all because of the inverted world created by central bankers who know more than free markets know…just ask them.

    • historicus says:

      Isnt this what happens when people can STILL BORROW below the inflation rate? Isnt this the predictable “side show” of rates pegged at unrealistic levels? First it was a housing shortage, then building materials… its a parts, food, and widget shortage.
      Paging J Powell….

    • Yamo says:

      Agree, all these shortages & supply chain chaos are scapegoats for keeping low sales with high prices in control to force big inflation with low volumes.
      As a man-made chaos on purpose.

    • Swamp Creature says:

      Was out at my local Irish pub the other day and the place was out of Bud Light beer for the third time in the month. Then they tried to substitute Miller light without even asking me. I took one sip of that p$sswater beer and told him to take it back. What the hell is going on with Anheiser Busch in St Louis. Did we outsource the beer production? I wouldn’t be surprized.

  17. Winston says:

    “Look not for what you want but for what the store has.”

    How very Soviet.

    • Motorcycle Guy says:


      You gave me the perfect lead-in to tell my story. Since we are heading into (or already in) a Communist economy, here’s my family story:
      On my father’s side my family was German but in the mid 1800s the King of Hungary offered to give farmland to any family willing to move to Hungary. My grandfather’s family moved to just outside of Budapest. My grandfather’s brother (Charles) came to the USA in 1913 and my grandfather followed in 1924.
      In 1966 my great uncle Charles went back to Budapest one last time to visit his sister who still lived on the (formerly “family” now People’s) farm.
      His sister was confined to just one bedroom in the house while the young couple who had been assigned to run the farm for the benefit of the People had the responsibility to grow plenty of food for the Motherland.
      The young couple grew just enough food for themselves and my great aunt. Any excess food they wound up with was sold on the black market.

      As a final comment; I remember reading a magazine article many decades ago about “shortages” of food in the former U. S. S. R. There was a picture of a bakery with plenty of bread and other items lining the back wall. Four women dressed all in white close and aprons stood behind the counter…not waiting on any of the customers standing in line in the store. The line stretched out the store and down the street with all the customers waiting patiently just incase one of the ladies might decide to wait on one of them.
      In both cases – the bakery employees and the young couple on the family farm – they were getting paid whether they worked or not. Sound familiar?

      • Crunchy says:

        You pretended to work, and they pretended to pay you.

      • Sierra7 says:

        Motorcycle Guy (and others)
        So, we continue to point the finger at others and cry, “See! See! See!”
        While our own so called “free-market” system continues to crumble!
        America is not “….stumbling towards Communism!”
        America is just making a mess of its own by its own “capitalists” and corrupt politicians.
        Covid has exaggerated that mess.
        We continue to be such hypocrites!

  18. SpencerG says:

    Just put coal in everybody’s stocking this year… plenty of that lying around these days. If they ask why… just tell them, “You know what you did.” They will spend all week trying to figure out how YOU know.

    • WES says:

      Sorry but Sanata has no lumps of coal this year!

      So you might as well be bad this year!

    • Anthony A. says:

      Coal prices are up and the Chinese are buying as much as they can. Amazon will sell you lumps of coal, but they are knock offs.

  19. breamrod says:

    I think this is the beginning of a giant wake up call for ordinary folks. ” gee the experts are really stupid” Duh! Hopefully a trend to more local everything. Bring back the factory town!

    • Old School says:

      Powell got caught in a big lie that inflation was transitory. The chairman should never lie when you have a system built on confidence.

      Dalio, who I am not crazy about, knows how the system works and says cash and bonds are going to be trash for at least a decade and you should diversify into everything else. At least that’s the short version as I understand it.

      • historicus says:

        Old School….

        “never lie when you have a system built on confidence.”

        So the Fed is complicit, via their cheap money policy, in the employment predicament and the record job openings, unfilled. If the federal govt had to borrow at real rates, the doling out would not happen to this degree, or at all. Nice job Fed.
        And we have 5.8% inflation with zero Fed Funds rates. Never happened before, and all at the hand of the Fed who promotes inflation.
        And we have near record lows in long rates, immoderately low.
        So, lets review.
        *Mandate #1 The Fed is supposed to promote maximum employment yet what they do with rates has had the OPPOSITE EFFECT. The free money to promote inflation is borrowed by the federal government and paid out in a fashion that discourages employment. Fail.

        Mandate #2 The Fed is supposed to promote stable prices, yet they promote just the opposite, INFLATION. Fail

        Mandate #3 The Fed is supposed to promote moderate (not extreme) long term rates, but we have near record lows, 30yrs almost 2% below inflation. Those rates are IMMODERATE and EXTREMELY low. Fail.

        *What should be done with J Powell for breach of Fiduciary responsibility in his post as Fed Chairman?
        *What should be done when it becomes clear the Fed is answering to another voice than their mandates/agreements/instructions under which they are allowed to operate?
        *What should be done with Fed Governors front running Fed policy and likely tipping off others (hedge fund managers and friends)?

      • Bead says:

        It’s not a lie. That’s what Powell’s sycophant PhD’s find in their models. Thank goodness Congress handed the keys to these ivory tower clowns.

        • historicus says:

          What they find in their models is not connected to their delineated mission statement.
          What they should search for is how to promote max employment, maintain stable prices, and keep long term interest rates MODERATE….
          The third mandate, moderate long term interest rates is INTENTIONALLY carved out of discussions with the “dual mandate” game…
          The third mandate would point out how off the rails the Fed is by dropping long rates to RAPE the future generations of their wealth to FLUFF the present. If they only knew maybe the younger people would focus a little more on the financial environment being left them rather than the climate change.

      • Swamp Creature says:

        Old School

        Every time Powell opens his mouth, he lies. This is not news.

  20. Old School says:

    Probably better off if he stays off the job four years. The guy always was a legend in his own mind.

  21. LGC says:

    This seems pretty obvious. We have become USSR.

    The awake notice and when they go shopping and they see something, well they buy a couple instead of just one because it might (probably) won’t be available tomorrow. And even if it is available tomorrow, it will be more expensive, so you might as well buy extra today. If you want something in a year, and it’s available today, you better buy it now and store it because who knows if it will be there and again it’s just going to be more expensive.

    • Motorcycle Guy says:


      I agree with you completely.
      Please see my personal story above.

  22. Bead says:

    Give “streaming” gifts. Or Vapor Coin. Or something virtual, like the hope of a future gift.

  23. Crush the Peasants! says:

    But the porn sites are unaffected, yes? (Asking for a friend.)

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Not sure about the sites. But there have been reports of sex toy shortages, those with chips in them. Anything electric has chips.

      • DawnsEarlyLight says:

        Wow, for once we have too many batteries, and not enough ‘toys’! 🤣

      • polecat says:

        And here I thought that those, um, ‘robots’ .. were to be our salvation ..


  24. Seneca’s Cliff says:

    I think if we keep waiting for the little kinks in the supply chain to be ironed out we will be waiting a long time. Over the last few decades we had stripped the people doing the critical jobs in the supply chain down to a bare minimum. Everything was off-shored or computerized or “disrupted” so that most people could live off hand waving jobs or “income” from the markets or “properties” or crypto or what have you. I think it was like one of those games where the last stick is pulled out and the whole edifice collapses. Everyone can’t sit around waiting for someone else to fix things so they can sit at home and order supplies on Amazon. People are gonna have to get off their couch and make things, grow things, and carry things. We have to get our priorities straight and realize that delivering a bag of cat litter to some bankers wife is not the same priority as getting the machine tool part to the factory. It is all downhill from here if we don’t.

    • polecat says:

      Things do indeed appear to be a bit twisty-ropey, don’t they – neck n neck with all that anger at the clueless MPCs sitting comfy on up toward the top of the food chain$, no?

    • Anthony A. says:

      Most of the factories are gone. The three I worked at in Connecticut in the 1970s – 1980s are boarded up. I was the Plant Manager of the third one and saw this coming so I left manufacturing and went to work for Big Oil in the mid 1980’s. Oh, those Connecticut manufacturing jobs are gone too, thousands of them.

      • BuySome says:

        Gee, gotta wonder when this all started…”Made in the American Zone of Germany”, “Made in Occupied Japan”, “Made in British Hong Kong”, “Made in R.O.K.”, etcetera etcetera etcetera (in a Yul Brenner voice). This has been the longest surrender negotiations in the history of the world.

  25. Augusto says:

    Already hearing stories about people buying up popular toys to resell on ebay. Also, the talking heads are already telling everyone to shop early-what’s in inventory and already on the ships is what we will have for Christmas. My guess is the big increase in prices will come when retailers start pricing on scarcity, not some fictitious manufacturers list price based on high volume production (which is dying fast). I think we are heading to a world where its, “I got it and if you want it you have to pay”, not, “well, I’ll just go down the street to another supplier or Amazon and get it. Yeah, do that and when you come back, the item will be gone.

    • edmondo says:

      It looks like a gift card Christmas to me. Outsource the shopping experience to the recipient.

    • Justin Marx says:

      You must not use Twitter for goods and restocks. There are numerous accounts that are actually pretty good at posting these types of items when they come back into stock. You also must not be an ebay seller either then lol.

  26. Petunia says:

    Went to the nice mall to check out the shortages for myself and didn’t find any. All the nicer more expensive stores were quiet, but well stocked for winter. The fast fashion lower priced stores were also well stocked and busy. No real sales yet.

    The real revelation for me was how many synthetic and fake leather products are being sold as sustainable clothing. Wouldn’t buy most of it regardless of the price.

  27. Nick Kelly says:

    Apparently a lot of Halloween stuff is still in ships. So that’s not going to make it.
    About that high holiday, nothing in recent history of last 100 yrs compares to its explosive growth / spending. A stat from a few years back said that if spending continued to grow at rate of last 3, it would overtake Xmas in 7 to 10 yrs.
    Prob not with gifts but still.

    Example from a few yrs ago. I wanted to get some dry ice to make fog. Went to local gas joint and asked what was min order. Guy thinks, and says: ‘is it for Halloween’ I say it is and he hands me a pound pack free.
    Next year there is a sandwich board out front with ad: Get Halloween Dry Ice!

    Sure, they are junk but all that stuff has some good imagination and tech: motion detectors for chattering skulls etc. Wonder what the Chinese who make it think about it.

    • Seneca’s Cliff says:

      Back in 1985 I had a short term gig as a business outreach person in a community college training and economic development center. I worked with a new business that imported Halloween decorations. They hung on your house and were called gutter goblins or something like that. At the time adults didn’t decorate their houses or dress up, as it was still pretty much a kids holiday. I remember thinking, “ boy this is dumb, who would spend good money to hang a bunch of cheesy trinkets on their house.” Boy, I was sure wrong.

    • Anthony A. says:

      All the missing auto manufacturers chips are in those chattering skulls.

      • Nick Kelly says:

        Don’t know if this is myth or….the story is the ole USSR bought 500 Chatty Cathies just for the chip.

        RE: IED. Any remote control toy works to activate detonator.

    • sunny129 says:

      ‘lot of Halloween stuff is still in ships’

      So what?

      Is the world going to end tomorrow!? Du they need ALL THAT junk -Stuff, really!?

      • BuySome says:

        Gonna be really funny when they get around to unloading “Ever-necessary” only to find it’s filled up with containers of pet costumes and dog toys made from the excess batting of cast-off Mao jackets left behind by old timers that kicked it in wave 1. Small pox blankets, anyone?

  28. Yancey Ward says:

    You mean I won’t be able to buy my son the GI Joe with the Kung Fu grip?

    • polecat says:

      You’ll just have to settle for a Fauci doll instead.

      Boy! Won’t THAT inspire Joy ..

    • BuySome says:

      Won’t need it…Joe’s no longer permitted to “chop suey” Biker Leather Ken and drag Bad Girl Barbie into the back of the duece-and-half. But you might get the arms-up surrender action version with remote control “Retreat” bugle call programming. Really cool as he’s instructed to spend a whopping amount and leave all the equipment behind intact for easy capture. The enemy is left shopping for parts on back-order which stymies their plans for world domination.

  29. TenGallonHat says:

    Uh, why was my comment about the Secretary of Transportation M I A removed? Pure fact.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      The last line in your comment was an unrelated political drive-by pejorative applied not only the politicians but also to a huge number of Americans, and it started to hijack the comments with people shredding your comment, and others adding to it, which devolved into a political shouting match. So forget it. If no one had responded to it, I would have let it go. If you hadn’t added that drive-by BS line at the end to rile people up, there wouldn’t have been an issue.

      • Depth Charge says:

        I wish I could have read the string. It sounded entertaining – which is largely frowned upon by the “no fun people.”

    • He dumped my entire comment and there were no pejoratives, or sex toys in it.

  30. ru82 says:

    oil is going too 100 over the next several months if renewables can not keep pace with current energy demand.

    Big oil is really not increasing capex and a lot of banks have stopped making loans to oil producers as they move to green companies.

    • sunny129 says:

      I hope it goes over 120, just like in 2008 and bring some sanity in the markets! Easy-Peasy money churned out by Fed and CBers have brought insanity, unchallenged and unaccountable by any one except the top 10% benefitting.

      I am eagerly waiting to hear ‘ NO ONE SAW THIS COMING’ again!

      • Nasturtiums says:

        Yes they did, it was called “Peak Oil” and people were predicating it 20 years ago. Maybe it’ll finally happen?

        • sunny129 says:

          Not talking about ‘peak oil’ but the insane market exuberance compared to 2008!

    • sunny129 says:

      Renewables CANNOT replace fosssil fuel demand for the next 10 yrs unless one is willing to trade away consumption based economy to recycleble/ sustainable economy. But consumers will have tantrum right!?

      • ru82 says:

        @sunny129 Yep….that is the issue. Renewables depend upon the weather which is somewhat predictable yet unpredictable.

        When it is unpredictable is when there may be issues. Fossil fuel for now is predictable.

        There has been a big shift into investing into new renewable energy but it is not happening as fast as needed. Add in the fact that nobody wants to invest in fossil fuels….can lead to a problem. Fossil fuels are not seeing pas investment levels yet demand is still going up. From the WSJ
        “Coal is dead, it’s un­touch­able,” says Mr. Oh of Moun­tain Cap­i­tal, which re­cently pur­chased an oil-and-gas pro­ducer in the Per­mian Basin but is among those that won’t in­vest in coal-re­lated as­sets. “You can’t get a coal loan to­day; you can barely get an oil-and-gas loan, so many banks have left the sec­tor.”

        There are now nine pri­vate-eq­uity firms fo­cused on en­ergy, which to­gether have $22 bil­lion of cap­i­tal avail­able to in­vest in the sec­tor. That is down from 29 firms with $90 bil­lion to in­vest in 2018, ac­cord­ing to RBC Cap­i­tal Mar­kets.

        “There’s no­body left, every­one’s kind of gone,” says Sam Oh, who runs Moun­tain Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment LLC, an en­ergy-fo­cused pri­vate-eq­uity firm in Hous­ton.

        Pick­er­ing En­ergy Part­ners has spent about $200 mil­lion on oil-pro­duc­ing acreage around Mid­land, Texas, so far this year. The firm saw lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion and was able to pay less than $5,000 an acre, down by more than half from the price a few years ago.

        • sunny129 says:

          ‘Renewables depend upon the weather’
          ru 82
          NOT just weather,in creating them but plenty of fossil fuel in early stages at least.

          There is BIG gap in renewables replacing the fossil fuel beyond the current capacity and wishful thinking. Big gap between the perception and the reality!
          In the shor term I am (already months before!) betting fossil fuel including coal in my investment portfolio

  31. sunny129 says:

    Those who have lived or have learned to live with LESS, will have no problems.
    90% of the stuff bought on credit is uneeded any way! How many sandals, shoes, apparels, jackets, t-shirts, gadgets ++ for each. every year!?
    No matter what, SUN will come tomorrow and then next day.

    • TenGallonHat says:

      No problems—until they do.
      Cars break down, computers crash, pipes freeze, t-shirts wear out, kids grow, shoes fall apart, etc.

      • BuySome says:

        Duct tape!! Oh crap…don’t tell me that make that in China too!

      • polecat says:

        Well TGH, the thing is, regardless of the need .. stuff, of what ever kind will/may/most likely, going forward .. become unobtainable regardless.

        So, simplify where at all possible.

  32. Micheal Engel says:

    1) WTI will fall 50% – 62% in 2022, rise to $70 plunge to $25
    in 2024.
    2) Sept 22 2008 fractal to today.

    • Nathan Dumbrowski says:

      Welcome back. ME the mystery man

      • Micheal Engel says:

        No mystery :
        1) WTI futures weekly linear : Sept 22 2008 fractal zone high
        to today.
        2) After a minor correction, up to about $90- $100 area. 3) Back to about $42.
        4) Up to the channel top, to around $70.
        5) And a plunge to about $25 – $20 in 2024, or so.
        6) A brutal deflation !!

        • Will V says:

          thank you for your return if it is the real Michael Engel. Benn a lurker for a few years but was missing you. My first post ever.

        • Brent says:

          Mr.Engel-If you don’t mind my asking…

          Was it you who wrote that cryptic headline for “Idaho Mountain Sentinel” 13 years ago ?

          “DOE to do NEPA’s EIS on BNFL’s AMWTP at INEEL after SRA protest”

          It took a team of MENSA dudes and 6 months of hard labor to decrypt it:

          “Department of Energy to do National Environmental Policy Act Environmental Impact Statement on British Nuclear Fuels Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project at Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory after Society for Risk Analysis protest”

        • Marbles says:

          Please give me fat cattle price range for next year. Maybe I could get Wolf to include a steak with your mug.

        • Petunia says:

          I don’t see how oil goes up and stays up with China slowing, WFH, unemployment, crime, and even conservation.

        • Lauren says:

          What takes it’s place?

        • Oil prices rise as the cost of money rises. The junk bond market is pulling back. Fed chief Yellen bombed the sector by holding rates too low too long, its game over on interest rates. They can talk about taper all they want.

      • BuySome says:

        I think that might be “man of mystery”. I want to know if our resident evil genious has a hairless cat and a small companion called “me2”.

    • Nick Kelly says:

      25$ finally puts the stake thru the heart of shale and would also push OPEC+ to slow production so I don’t see 25 for long absent a HUGE drop in demand.
      Which is not happening. If anything it might keep guzzlers on the road.

  33. SocalJim says:

    “Not Getting Better”

    But, they are getting better for SFR investors.

    These people are making more on their holdings than than they lose to inflation. In this economy, those with the means to pay higher retail prices are doing just fine.

    • Petunia says:

      Enjoy it while you can. Here are some numbers to ponder 1789, 1776, 1860, 1932, …

      • polecat says:

        Oh, how ‘Straussian’! .. in a twisty-Turning kind a way…

        • Petunia says:

          I think the party just ended. Zillow says it is out of the flipping business until the end of the year. Seems clear to me the market is turning.

    • MonkeyBusiness says:

      That means the country is going in the right direction right? As long as SFR investors are making money that is. … Otherwise nothing matters right?

      • SocalJim says:

        My opinion is this country is in trouble. The political system is corrupt as heck. However, we can fix that. All we can do is the best we can do.

        • polecat says:

          Who is this ‘WE’ of which you speakith?? Nancy… Chuck… Mitch…

          Talk about ‘fixer$’ … CONGRESS, whom are collectively SUPPOSED to DO THEIR F**kin JOBS.. e.i. working for the common pleb’s good … instead play one-upmanship amongst one-another (regardless of tribal color ..) .. insider trading the markets whilst sucking CORPORATE COCK , all for their own gain, the public be damed!

  34. MonkeyBusiness says:

    So basically the S&P will break the all time high again?

    Because if you can’t buy anything for XMas, might as well stonk up right?

  35. LM says:

    Isn’t this just addiction flaring up in various ways? Not possible to heal until the problem is admitted.

  36. Nathan Dumbrowski says:

    Read that Zillow has put a hold on future home purchasing for 2021. Along the line of they have reached their quota for home purchases for the year. Rumor or truth?

    Do they know something or see the cliff

    • BigAl says:

      Zillow is either:

      a) Being priced out of the market (unlikely)
      b) Having it’s hand stayed by its largest stakeholders (e.g. Blackrock) who are scrambling to procucre homes, themselves, and do not with for additional competition to bid up prices.

  37. boikin says:

    Everyone has everything backwards about the solution, the problem is that companies are not maximizing their profits enough. My original dissertation topic before being laughed at by my advisor was that instead of always trying to work out optimal JIT supply chains, you should always try and maximize your profit on your current chain situation and if your situation is mess you need to raise prices to match what demand you can actually fill, until you were able to improve the situation. Companies were too slow to raise prices, we probably should have seen 50% inflation on some items beginning late last year, instead of hoping things would just work themselves out. Now we are getting the worst of both worlds prices are going up and the supplies are not getting better.

    • BigAl says:

      Too, true.

      When somebody remarked to me last year…

      “Why have companies focused so intently on micro-optimizing everything for the greatest possible profit at the expense of resiliency?”

      …I could remark

      “Because they have yet to figure out hwo to nano-optimize everything for even greater profit”.

      The moral of the story – Americans were somehow deluded into thinking factories are magical beasts in which one flips on the light swtich and finished products chug out a few moments later.

      They are now discovering that it is not so to their sorrow.

  38. Swamp Creature says:

    I was at the COINBASE change machine today to cash in all my pennies, nickels and dimes. I pay them 12.5% plus some fixed upfront fee to do this for me. I value my time as worth more than the time I would have to spend to roll them up and cash them at the bank. What I noticed for the first time was there was an option to get payment in BITCOIN!

    Looks like more and more places are promoting BITCOIN vs the US currency. That’s because we’ve got 20% inflation with no end in sight.

    • BigAl says:

      I doubt Bitcoin is close to peaking yet…I am very glad to own crypto.

      …but be warned – the PRC has more-or-less banned crypto. So a bet on Crypto amounts to basically a “Put” on the PRC/CCP.

      I will not go so far to say “do not own them” (as I do own them, myself)…but I very much believe that that these will be rendered worthless someday and suddenly, and I would not be comfortable taking my eyes off them for very long.

      Also realize that crypos are very heavily-financialized. Financialization does not increase productive capacity. In effect, crypto is already succumbing to the problem it purports to avoid.

    • BigAl says:

      I should also mention that all that Bitcoin mining that’s moved to Texas isn’t exactly going to reduce the strain on their electrical grid, is it?

  39. Anderson Phillips says:

    I took my car to the Toyota dealer for servicing the other day and while I was talking to one of the new car salesman he told me that they normally have 1000 new cars on their lot. “ Today, we have 35 cars and trucks, “ he said. “We will get 4-5 deliveries with 15 vehicles each month; they are sold within a few days of arrival.” I also noticed a new Tundra had a 13k “Market Adjustment “ added to the MSRP. The salesman said he is telling everyone not to buy a car unless you have to have it. Crazy times!

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