May 26, 2022 - Economy

Helium shortage hits birthday and graduation parties

Happy birthday balloon being filled with helium at a Dollar Tree store

Dollar Tree officials said Thursday that there is a helium shortage. Photo: Getty Images

A global helium shortage could burst plans for celebratory graduation balloons and birthday party decorations.

Why it matters: Dollar Tree officials said Thursday they were “once again” experiencing a helium shortage and that it could negatively affect balloon sales.

  • In 2019, ahead of COVID-related shortages, helium was in short supply.
  • Helium also is used in airbags, cryogenics, rocket fuel, MRI machines and for deep sea diving.

What's happening: Dollar Tree officials discussed the shortage Thursday during its quarterly earnings call, and Party City talked of the shortage during a May 9 call with analysts.

  • Major helium suppliers have placed allocations on the odorless gas, Party City CEO Brad Weston said.
  • The National Weather Service also is facing shortages in key gases it uses to fill weather balloons, and several balloon sites have had to limit launches because of supply chain shortages as well as a contract dispute concerning a supplier of hydrogen gas.
  • Nebraska Cornhuskers football team has suspended its red balloon tradition at home games because of the shortage, Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts announced Monday.

What they're saying: “We’ve been asked by the university that the helium we are getting as a university we need to use for medical purposes at UNMC in Omaha,” Trev Alberts said on his radio show, KMTV Omaha reported. "And so, we are this year not going to be providing the red balloons for the first time at Memorial Stadium."

  • “The good news is, we've secured helium to meet our customers' needs, which is important ahead of our key graduation season,” Weston said earlier this month. “As a point of reference, today, 97% of our fleet is in stock with helium versus the 2018, 2019 time frame when approximately one-third of our fleet was without helium at any given time.”

Our thought bubble: If you plan to get balloons filled in the coming days and weeks, call around ahead of time to ensure helium is available. Or be prepared with an alternative decoration.

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