Latest news



Supply Lines: Shelter in a storm

Supply Lines

As Covid-19 restrictions wreak havoc on the world's major ports by exposing inefficiencies and lengthening delays, trade at sub-Saharan Africa's biggest container hub is functioning well after a strict lockdown gave it room to test and institute new systems.

A lull in activity amid the curbs meant authorities at the Port of Durban on South Africa's east coast was able to try new ideas and "had an appetite to take little bits of failure but quickly recover because there wasn't a lot of pressure," said Moshe Motlohi, its general manager.

The port is now able to handle 3,185 trucks every 24 hours, almost double the volume over the same period last year, when lines of carriers snaked back more than 10 kilometers (6 miles) waiting to be serviced at the height of the bottlenecks.

That's largely due to work started in November 2019 by the Port of Durban Decongestion Task Team, which sought to relieve traffic pressure and congestion at its main precinct and surrounding networks. The catchment area serviced by the port accounts for 60% of South Africa's gross domestic product and handles most shipments on behalf of the country's landlocked neighbors such as the kingdom of Lesotho.

The team identified and started work in eight areas. Motlohi said these included:

  • synchronizing local business practices with the port's 24-7 operations
  • setting up off-dock facilities outside of the port for trucks
  • optimizing teams and equipment
  • improving the supply of trains that carry mineral ores
  • communicating with other ports in the region that ships also call on

Overall freight volumes from April to the end of October fell 16% from a year earlier due to the lockdown restrictions. That's despite a virus-driven surge in citrus exports from South Africa, the world's largest exporter of the fruits after Spain.

Prinesha Naidoo in Johannesburg

Charted Territory

Deutsche Lufthansa is preparing its depleted fleet of aircraft for the gargantuan task of transporting the vaccines meant to end the global pandemic. One of the world's biggest cargo carriers began planning in April how to distribute the shots and a 20-member task force is at work devising how to fit more of the crucial payload onto the airline's 15 Boeing Co. 777 and MD-11 freighters.

Today's Must Reads

  • Fish on | Boris Johnson's officials believe a Brexit trade deal could be reached within days if both sides continue working in "good faith" to resolve fishing rights. For Britain's wounded economy, the stakes couldn't be higher as negotiations reach the endgame.
  • Trade sheriff | The EU's deadpan trade chief is at the sharp end of efforts to rebuild the transatlantic alliance that was tipped into crisis by the Trump presidency.
  • Australia warning | Australia's trade minister said China's steps to curb imports of his country's goods are "aggressive" and undermine confidence in the global economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Listing limits | In Washington, the House is set to vote on bipartisan legislation that would impose restrictions on Chinese companies listed on U.S. exchanges. Separately, the splintering of the global tech supply chain that began on Donald Trump's watch looks set to persist under his successor.
  • New clothes | South African retailers including Foschini and Woolworths are increasing investment in local clothing manufacturers, both to reduce a dependency on Chinese imports and secure a supply chain thrown into disarray by Covid-19 restrictions.
  • Online shopping | Black Friday — once the ultimate U.S. shopping day — is seeing disruptions like so much else during the Covid-19 crisis, with consumers largely avoiding malls and instead flocking online. As for Cyber Monday: if you're looking to get a jump on holiday shopping, you're too late.

On the Bloomberg Terminal

  • Optimistic outlook | A fifth straight month of increases in Japan's industrial production in October -- and overshoot relative to expectations -- was driven by output of automobiles, conveyor systems and laptop PCs on stronger external demand.
  • Factory fortitude | The stronger-than-expected readings on China's November manufacturing purchasing managers indexes bolster our confidence the economy's recovery momentum is holding up well.
  • Use the AHOY function to track global commodities trade flows.
  • Click HERE for automated stories about supply chains.
  • See BNEF for BloombergNEF's analysis of clean energy, advanced transport, digital industry, innovative materials, and commodities.
  • Click VRUS on the terminal for news and data on the coronavirus and here for maps and charts.

Like Supply Lines?

Don't keep it to yourself. Colleagues and friends can sign up here. We also publish Balance of Power, a daily briefing on the latest in global politics.

For even more: Follow @economics on Twitter and subscribe to for unlimited access to trusted, data-driven journalism and gain expert analysis from exclusive subscriber-only newsletters.

How are we doing? We want to hear what you think about this newsletter. Let our trade tsar know.


Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. Find out more about how the Terminal delivers information and analysis that financial professionals can't find anywhere else. Learn more.


Post a comment