FTC probes major retailers’ profit margins in supply chain investigation

Containers are stacked at the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach in Calif., Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. U.S. manufacturing growth slowed in October amid growing headaches from supply chain bottlenecks. The Institute for Supply Management a trade group of purchasing managers, said Monday, Nov. 1, that its index of manufacturing activity dipped to a reading of 60.8% in October, 0.3 percentage-points below September’s 61.1%. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Federal Trade Commission is asking Amazon, Walmart and seven other retailers and wholesalers for internal documents, as a part of a newly launched investigation into supply chain disruptions.

The FTC said Monday that it’s looking into supply chain bottlenecks that have plagued companies large and small since the coronavirus pandemic began. As part of its investigation, major companies are being asked to surrender what would normally be considered proprietary data. Each has 45 days to respond, the FTC said.

“Supply chain disruptions are upending the provision and delivery of a wide array of goods, ranging from computer chips and medicines to meat and lumber,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said in a statement Monday.

Khan added that the FTC will also examine whether supply chain issues are adding to rising consumer prices or encouraging companies to engage in anticompetitive practices.

The FTC sent letters to Walmart, Amazon, Kroger, C&S Wholesale Grocers, Associated Wholesale Grocers, Procter & Gamble, Tyson Foods, McLane Co., and Kraft Heinz. Most of those companies did not immediately respond to a request from CBS MoneyWatch for comment.

Spokespersons for McLane, C&S Wholesale and Kraft Heinz told CBS MoneyWatch that their companies plan to fully cooperate with the FTC’s investigation. The National Grocers Association, a Washington trade group, said it’s also welcoming the investigation.

In the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, many overseas manufacturers reduced their output of consumer products as they faced national lockdowns and labor shortages, as workers who were sick or scared of getting sick did not show up for work.

Worldwide supply chain bottlenecks and shipping delays have led to an unprecedented backlog of ships waiting to unload. Many cargo ships waiting to offload their goods are docked in U.S. ports, stocked with products unable to reach store shelves.

Electronics, jewelry, apparel and even pet supplies top the list of products now in short supply because of the global supply chain crisis. The Biden Administration in June said that it established a task force to further investigate disruptions in order to fix the problem.

Will continue into 2022

The supply chain problems facing the U.S. will likely continue into 2022, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN last month. Suppliers continue to experience staff shortages and, in some cases, missing shipping containers, further hampering how quickly the problem can be resolved, University of Miami business school dean John Quelch told CBSN’s Lana Zak.

The FTC is asking companies to detail the major factors disrupting their access to products, including the items most affected and company responses to these challenges. The agency is also asking for company strategies on pricing, sales volumes, selection of suppliers, market share and product promotions.

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