NEW YORK • Reopening demand and marooned containers have caused bottlenecks across supply chains just as the holiday shopping season kicks off in North America, prompting downgrades across analysts' estimates for the upcoming earnings season.
Few expect the supply snarls to end this year as an energy crisis stokes inflation fears. Caution abounds in the semiconductor, retail and raw material segments.
"The supply-chain problems are going to stay, leading to substantially higher prices and major dislocations in parts of markets no one is expecting," said Mr George Ball, chairman of Houston-based investment firm Sanders Morris Harris.
"Almost all segments of the economy that are not pure service or pure technology-driven will be struggling with supply chain issues for a long time."
For the semiconductor industry, expectations are for more capacity to trickle in only by the latter part of next year because of factory closures and longer delivery times. A power crunch in China could also worsen the situation as it shuts down factories.
However, with hubs such as Malaysia reopening, the pricing power of some companies could weaken, particularly at a time when material costs such as silicon are soaring. Prices for dynamic random-access memory chips already appear to be peaking, and 12-month forward earnings estimates for chipmaking giants Samsung Electronics, Micron Technology and Intel have fluctuated or fallen in the past two months. Shares are down around 20 per cent or more from recent peaks.
"Even though many of them have had revenues surge to all-time records, the stocks have not followed suit," said trading firm Susquehanna analyst Christopher Rolland. "That tells me that at this point, some of this consternation is baked into shares more broadly."
Chip shortages are also behind the estimated US$210 billion (S$284 billion) in lost sales for carmakers this year. Many have reported a slump in revenues in the third quarter, worsened by shipping logjams and port congestion.
However, with the industry's troubles well documented, some analysts see most of the downside already priced in.
Morgan Stanley analysts wrote last week that the third quarter is likely "the trough in terms of auto production" in the United States, although there could be multiple guidance cuts by suppliers.
"But production cuts seem well telegraphed, so don't be surprised to see investors buy the 3Q (third-quarter) chip dip," they said.
The MSCI AC World Automobiles and Components Index has been climbing towards a seven-month relative high against the broader market since late August.
Carmakers such as Tesla and Toyota Motor appear to be handling the shortages better than others, with the Japanese company reporting a 1.4 per cent increase in sales in the latest quarter.
Toyota has managed its chip supply very well so far because it has been addressing supplier relationships differently after an earthquake in Japan earlier this year halted production, said Ms Tineke Frikkee, head of British equity research at Waverton Investment Management.
A 65 per cent plunge in bellwether Bed Bath & Beyond shares since early June exemplifies the problems facing retailers globally, with multiple choke points in their supply chains just as they need to stock up for the most important time of the year. A gauge of the sector is trailing the broader market by more than 7 percentage points as companies cut forecasts for sales and profitability.
The challenges will "modestly" impact margins for the third quarter and have a more significant effect in the next, which captures the holiday season, according to Telsey Advisory Group analyst Cristina Fernandez.
Making matters worse are factory closures. Nike lowered its sales forecast in late September due to shutdowns in Vietnam, where tens of thousands of workers are now leaving the factory heartland. Deckers Outdoor, Skechers, adidas and Under Armour also have at least a quarter of their production in Vietnam, according to Wedbush Securities analyst Tom Nikic.
That said, the most exposed stocks are down about 20 per cent on average since mid-August, so we think "investors have digested most of these issues", Mr Nikic wrote in a note last week.
What is making matters worse for margins is a supply crunch within the commodity sector, driving raw material costs even higher for businesses already dealing with logistics issues.
"The next supply and demand disruption is on the energy front," said Mr Zhikai Chen, head of Asian equities at BNP Paribas Asset Management. "We may see further supply issues if energy rationing becomes more widespread."
Citigroup's Global Earnings Revision Index - a worldwide measure of analyst upgrades minus downgrades of profit expectations - is plummeting towards negative territory after hitting an all-time high in May.
Cotton climbed to nearly a fresh decade high last Thursday, while decarbonisation policies in China and India have led to an acute coal crunch and Europe's natural gas prices are skyrocketing.
Still, energy shortages and high oil prices should be a positive for green energy producers, electric vehicles, the battery industry and the entire green energy supply chain, said Mr Willem Sels, chief investment officer of private banking and wealth management at HSBC Holdings.
Industrial and construction firms are expected to warn about supply chain troubles as they begin reporting third-quarter results later this month. Companies, including supermarkets and e-commerce firms, are dealing with a shortage of truck drivers in parts of the world. And shippers still face a lack of cargo containers at the right place for the right price.
"The broader industrials, the food sector and the construction industry have largely been left unscathed and are vulnerable to some more correction to reflect the risks," said Sanders Morris Harris' Mr Ball.