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Pandemic side effect: America's backed up ports

The historic backup at America's ports — critical entry points for sneakers or Peloton bikes — is having a boomerang effect on companies and shoppers.

Why it matters: The port chaos may get worse. More stimulus checks are coming down the pipe, pushing Americans to spend and order more.


What's happening: Port of Long Beach, the second-busiest after Port of Los Angeles, handled more containers last month than any other February in its 110-year history.

What they're saying: "The good news is the economy is getting better. People are spending money. Given the consumer demand, which is beyond what we expected, even if you go back six months, we do have challenges," Mario Cordero, the port's executive director, tells Axios.

Catch up quick: Bored-at-home Americans with more money redirected spending to online shopping — setting off a rat race to get products from overseas.

The problem: A shortage of containers that carry the stuff that's shipped to the states via sea. Containers that do get sent are tied up at America's busiest ports, where workers are overwhelmed in unloading them — making the backup and the container shortage worse.

Another way to think about it: It's like a crowded airport, Daniel Hackett of shipping consultancy firm Hackett Associates, tells Axios.

  • "The previous plane is still waiting to depart a gate, and the plane you are waiting for has arrived but is forced to sit and wait for the gate to free up," Hackett says.
  • More people are waiting around the gate — the ones waiting to board the delayed and upcoming plane, much like the containers left floating at sea, waiting for a berth at the port.

How it's playing out: The high demand means shipping costs are soaring — which may eventually get passed on to the consumer.

  • The delays mean companies can't stock or re-stock shelves. Meanwhile, shoppers have less inventory to choose from — or their orders get delayed.
  • Executives are mentioning the problem on earnings calls or investor conferences at the highest rate in at least 16 years, data from research platform Sentieo shows.

What they're saying: At Foot Locker, "inventory delays due to congestion at the domestic ports" prevented it from meeting consumer demand for footwear and other "comfort clothing," the CEO told analysts.

  • It's caused delays for furniture, sporting goods, lawn and garden items at Costco, its CFO told Wall Street analysts last week.
  • Worth noting: Companies like Gap turned to other options in lieu of the at-sea chaos, like more-expensive air freight.

The bottom line: The port havoc is showing up in companies' financial reports — and threatens delays not just for consumers, but for manufacturers waiting on imported parts.

What to watch: The retail industry expects shipping volumes to remain elevated for now. But the mass vaccination rollout is picking up speed and a return to normal could be nigh.

  • That means people could start putting funds toward "travel, or things that don't require as much importing of merchandise," says Hackett.

Biden's blinking red lights: Taiwan, Ukraine and Iran

Russia is menacing Ukraine’s borders, China is sending increasingly ominous signals over Taiwan and Iran is accelerating its uranium enrichment to unprecedented levels.

The big picture: Ukraine, Taiwan and Iran’s nuclear program always loomed large on the menu of potential crises President Biden could face. But over the last several days, the lights have been blinking red on all three fronts all at once.

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Czech Republic expels 18 Russian diplomats over 2014 depot explosion

Czech police on Saturday connected two Russian men suspected of carrying out a poisoning attack in Salisbury, England, with a deadly ammunition depot explosion southeast of the capital, Prague, per Reuters.

Driving the news: Czech officials announced Saturday they're expelling 18 Russian diplomats they accuse of being involved in the blast in Vrbetice, AP notes. Czech police said later they're searching for two men carrying several passports — including two named Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

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Indianapolis mass shooting suspect legally bought 2 guns, police say

The suspected gunman in this week's mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis legally purchased two assault rifles believed to have been used in the attack, police said late Saturday.

Of note: The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's statement that Brandon Scott Hole, 19, bought the rifles last July and September comes a day after the FBI said in a statement to news outlets that a "shotgun was seized" from the suspect in March 2020 after his mother raised concerns about his mental health.

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U.S. and China agree to cooperate on climate action, but details remain to be negotiated

Despite an increasingly tense relationship, the U.S. and China agreed Saturday to work together to tackle global climate change, including by "raising ambition" for emissions cuts during the 2020s — a key goal of the Biden administration.

Why it matters: The joint communique released Saturday evening commits the world's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases to work together to keep the most ambitious temperature target contained in the Paris Climate Agreement viable by potentially taking additional emissions cuts prior to 2030.

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"We couldn't do two things at once": Biden defends not immediately raising refugee cap

President Biden on Saturday sought to explain why he didn't immediately lift the Trump administration's historically low refugee cap.

Driving the news: Several Democrats accused Biden Friday of not fulfilling his pledge to raise the limit after it was announced he'd keep the cap. The White House said later it would be raised by May 15. Biden told reporters Saturday, "We're going to increase the number."

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Children of color in rural areas battle deep health care disparities

Living in the nation's poorest, most rural communities can be a death sentence for African American and Native American children.

Why it matters: Lack of health care and healthy food make Black and indigenous childrenin the nation’s most disadvantaged counties five times as likely to die as children in other areas of the country,the advocacy group Save the Children found after analyzing federal data.

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How telehealth can narrow racial disparities

Data: CDC; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Racial disparities have been a constant problem in maternal health care, from rising death rates to the threat of severe COVID-19 among pregnant women. But now experts are hopeful that telehealth can help narrow those disparities.

Why it matters: It's not a complete solution to the racial barriers women of color face. But some experts are optimistic that telehealth — long-distance health care through videoconferences and other technology — can help reduce those barriers by offering flexibility in appointments and better access to diverse providers.

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Capitol Hill's far right pushes Anglo-Saxon values, European architecture

Multiple far-right House Republicans have begun planning and promoting an America First Caucus aimed at pushing "uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions," Punchbowl News first reported.

The big picture: "The document was being circulated as the GOP is struggling to determine a clear direction as it prepares to try winning back control of the House and Senate in the 2022 elections," AP writes.

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