Afternoon Coffee: US ports saw record numbers in March; EU reinstates J&J vaccine’s use; Small businesses have a hard time filling jobs

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Ports across the US reported record-breaking numbers in March because of consumer spending that drove demand for ocean shipping, according to Supply Chain Dive.

Import volumes rose greatly across the country, with imported intermodal containers growing almost 51% year-over-year (YoY) across the US. These numbers are led by higher imports from Asia. Imports from China were up 177% YoY, and imports from Vietnam were up almost 75% YoY, the article said.

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These figures indicate that consumer demand is driving the surge. S&P Global numbers show that imports of leisure products like toys and workout equipment to US ports rose almost 95% YoY. Meanwhile, imports of home furnishing items rose 91% YoY. Supply Chain Dive reported that the number of imports coming to US shores is not expected to ease anytime soon.

"Between federal stimulus checks and money saved by staying home for the better part of a year, consumers have money in their pockets, and they’re spending it with retailers as fast as retailers can stock their shelves," NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a statement, Supply Chain Dive reported.

European Medicines Agency allows J&J coronavirus vaccine to resume deliveries

European countries on Wednesday said they are preparing to resume deliveries of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine after Europe’s drug regulator supported the use of the shot, according to Reuters.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said the benefits of using the J&J vaccine outweighed the risks of a rare blood clotting issue seen in some adults. The review of the handful of cases led to a pause of the rollout of J&J’s vaccine in Europe and the US last week, the article said.

The use of the J&J vaccine was halted by US regulators last week after rare blood clots were reported in six women, leading to the delay of its rollout in Europe. US officials plan to rule on the J&J vaccine soon. Nearly 8 million people in the US have received the J&J one-dose shot. EMA said it considers the vaccine safe but left it up to the European Union’s member states to decide how to use it.

Small businesses have hard time filling jobs despite high unemployment

Although unemployment claims and joblessness are at unprecedented highs because of the Covid pandemic, small businesses are actually having a hard time filling job applications, according to the Associated Press.

Owners of small businesses say the difficulty hurts their ability to keep up with demand for products or services. Some would-be workers are worried about catching the virus or prefer to live off unemployment benefits that are higher during the pandemic. Childcare is also proving to be an issue, the article said.

Businesses of all sizes are struggling with hiring even as nearly 10 million Americans remain unemployed. Although vaccination numbers are increasing and people look forward to a more normal life, smaller businesses often can’t afford to pay or provide generous benefits. A National Federation of Independent Business survey found that 42% of members had job openings they couldn’t fill, the article said.

“Until the schools are reopened, and avenues of childcare are normalized, small firms in general, as well as food, beverage, leisure and hospitality, in particular, are going to face staffing challenges until later this fall at the earliest,” Chief Economist with consulting firm RSM, Joe Brusuelas, told the AP.

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