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Bottlenecks at an adult tricycle company illustrate continuing economic challenges.

todayAugust 26, 2021

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Catrike has 500 of its three-wheeled bikes sitting in its workshop in Orlando, Fla., nearly ready to be sent to expectant dealers. The recumbent trikes have been waiting for months for rear derailleurs, a small but crucial part that is built in Taiwan.

The company’s problems offer a window into how supply-chain disruptions are rocking companies in the United States and around the world, pushing inflation higher, delaying deliveries and exacerbating economic uncertainty.

It is unclear when the snarls will clear up, and it’s possible they will get worse before they get better. The holiday season is right around the corner, American companies are running light on inventory, and coronavirus outbreaks continue to shut factories around the world.

Demand for goods remains strong as households use money saved during months stuck at home to buy athletic equipment, couches and clothing.

That could keep pressure on global goods producers and the transportation routes that serve them.

The critical questions for economic policymakers are how long the problems will last and how much they will feed into consumer prices, which have jumped sharply this year, both because of data quirks and bottlenecks.

Federal Reserve officials regularly say they expect the faster price gains to prove “transitory,” but they are careful to stress that supply chains are a major source of lingering uncertainty, making it unclear how quickly rapid gains will fade.

Container costs have rocketed up. Earlier this month, container shipping rates from China and East Asia to the United States’ East Coast climbed above $20,000, compared with about $4,000 a year ago, according to data from the freight-tracking firm Freightos.

Those attractive high prices are encouraging ships to abandon other routes, causing the problem to spread. And shipping issues have been exacerbated by related imbalances: Boats are backing up at ports, and as demand for goods booms in the United States, empty shipping containers haven’t been able to get back to China fast enough.

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