Mar 12, 2020 - Economy

Brace for coronavirus supply shocks

Illustration of hands holding a cut-out phone-shaped space.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Products from major American companies including Apple, GM, Coca-Cola and even Facebook may soon become unavailable, as the fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak backs up and shuts down global supply chains.

Why it matters: Consumers should brace themselves for products to go missing in the coming weeks and months — and it may not be the ones they expect.

For example: Facebook is already short on Oculus VR headsets, and Apple has reportedly told support staff that replacement iPhones for some devices will be in short supply for two to four weeks, our colleague Ina Fried notes.

  • Coca-Cola warned in late February that products in artificial sweeteners used in Diet Coke have been delayed.

Other day-to-day essentials could be in short supply, too.

Procter & Gamble, which makes everything from toilet paper to laundry detergent, has more than 300 suppliers in China that provide 9,000 different materials for its products.

  • “Each of these suppliers faces their own challenges in resuming operations," Jon Moeller, P&G’s CFO. told analysts last month. "The challenges change with the hour."

Go deeper: The coronavirus hasn't upended the pharmaceutical supply yet, but the federal government is acutely aware that dozens of prescription drugs are at risk of shortage.

  • The FDA is working with 180 drug companies and 63 medical device manufacturers to evaluate whether their products and components are at risk.
  • However, it has suspended most inspections of foreign manufacturing sites through April.

The big picture: The supply shortage will likely expand significantly, experts say.

  • "As East Asia starts to recover, the focus turns to Europe and then to North America," Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at tax and consulting firm RSM, tells Axios.
  • He expects a cascade of shocks to continue, "with the worst impact for businesses to come in April and May."

Chinese supply chains may be lumbering back, but there will likely be rolling auto parts shortages in other regions of the world, mirroring the spread of the virus, throughout 2020, Andrew Chien, a partner at consulting firm Oliver Wyman, tells Axios.

  • The next risk will likely come from Korea, where most of the world’s memory chips are made. Carmakers have a few weeks’ buffer of supply, but Chien expects to see shortages within a month.
  • Other potential shortages could include components imported from Italy: Brembo brakes, Pirelli tires, and FiatChrysler engines and transmissions.

By the numbers: A survey released Wednesday by data provider ISM shows the virus outbreak has caused supply chain disruptions for nearly three-quarters of U.S. companies, and many are already pricing in revenue losses this year as a result.

What's next: Companies in multiple industries tell Axios that the situation remains fluid, with teams of people monitoring supply chain issues around the clock.

  • Shipping and delivery could become a new operational chokepoint, especially if more regions end up in lockdown like Italy.
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