FRED, the economic data mine beloved of wonks everywhere, is the latest outfit to fall victim to supply chain shortages.
The site, produced by the St Louis Federal Reserve, offered this t-shirt last year to mark its 30th birthday. And it’s proven such a hit that it’s now sold out:
Why is FRED struggling to match supply with demand and put its merchandise on the backs of lovers of time series everywhere? We raided its search function to find out what’s behind the disequilibrium.
For starters, there’s been a surge in demand for consumer goods, such as clothing. People have been stuck at home during the pandemic, unable to spend as much on going out as they usually would. E-commerce portals filled a gap, enabling us to quell boredom by ordering goods online to be delivered to our homes:
Meanwhile, pandemic-related closures of factories and climate change have affected the supply of the FRED t-shirt’s key input: cotton. Here’s what happened to global prices:
Then there’s the impact on logistics from this surge in demand for physical goods. The world’s makers have struggled to get the materials they need quickly due to factors ranging from a lack of shipping containers to shortages of warehouse space and workers. The result? Not only delays, but higher costs for services like trucking:
At the root of all this is, of course, the US’s vast fiscal and monetary stimulus to counteract the economic impact of the pandemic. The government’s checks boosted demand, while the Federal Reserve’s easing kept markets buoyant, and credit cheap and plentiful. A consequence of which was a revival of interest in monetary aggregates. Here’s the M2 series up until February 2021, when it was controversially discontinued:
Economists will be heartened to hear that the market has not completely failed, however. Those of us who are desperate to display our affection for FRED through the medium of t-shirts can purchase a pretty much perfect (though maybe not entirely legal) substitute here.
And for others still fired up by the decision to cancel M2, there’s always this.