Little Christmas cheer as port strikes drag on

Containers pile up at Felixstowe

Companies could be stuck with unsold goods by Christmas as shoppers are buying less and retailers have overstocked, according to a report on shipping by supply chain software company Project44.

It predicted that retailers’ high stock levels after poor revenue results will “prompt mark-down sales”.

Supply chains were disrupted by the pandemic, leading to shortages of goods around the world. Transit times between China and Europe are now just under 40 days, compared with 45 in January and an average of 30 before Covid.

The report found that strikes at UK container ports have caused problems for businesses. An eight-day strike at Felixstowe in August is estimated to have affected £4.4 billion in trade. The time that containers waited before being loaded rose from an average of seven days to up to 21. Containers of imports waited up to 13 days to be unloaded.

Employees stopped work again at the port on Tuesday and will not return until Wednesday. This coincided with a strike by more than 560 workers at the Port of Liverpool, which began on September 19.

The report gives a gloomy assessment of inflation for the rest of the year. “A quick settlement of industrial disputes is unlikely given the mood among dock workers at major British container ports,” it said.

“The cost of living crisis is only likely to get worse as the latest tax-cutting, debt-funded measures introduced by the new UK government have caused sterling to crash to near parity with the US dollar, making imports of oil, other commodities, industrial goods and food significantly more expensive”.