Today's Top Supply Chain and Logistics News From WSJ

By Paul Page Features Dow Jones Newswires

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U.S. consumers are stepping up their buying and retailers are rushing to bring them the goods. Retail sales surged last month at the strongest rate since December, the WSJ's Josh Mitchell and Sarah Chaney report, a new sign of rising confidence in American households and new momentum in the economy heading into the fall. The gains weren't spread evenly: online sales were up 1.3% from June, and 11.5% from a year ago. But rising car sales and gains at sporting goods sites and department stores will raise hopes that bigger growth is coming. New accounts from the country's biggest import gateways suggest retailers certainly are stocking up for a rebound. California's ports of Los Angeles and Long Bach reported double-digit gains in inbound container volume to new record levels in July and the Port of Oakland, with more modest 5.4% growth, also set an import record. Those boxes are bringing more goods to warehouses and stores, giving shipping lines a big start to the peak season and what retailers hope will be a shopping season that pays for all that inventory.

The U.K. is looking for way to halt some of Brexit's damaging fallout at the border. The government is proposing what it calls a "new customs partnership" with the European Union, the WSJ's Jason Douglas reports, an unprecedented arrangement that would eliminate the need for border checks on imports and exports after the U.K. leaves the EU. It's only one piece of the bigger Brexit puzzle, but the idea would help eliminate what companies fear would become a major supply-chain logjam at ports and other gateways. The first response from the EU was positive, although both sides have a raft of issues to iron out even before they get to discussions on the details of customs and trade. The broad outline of the U.K.'s customs plan would have customs arrangements with the EU remain largely the same as they are now. That reflects the "frictionless trade" that British officials say they want and that trading companies say they need.

Technology is becoming the busiest area for investment in logistics as companies look to expand their reach. Ingram Micro Inc.'s new backing of warehouse automation startup HDS Global is part of a broader tie-up between the companies, WSJ Logistics Report's Brian Basin writes, and will help Ingram Micro extend the technology distributor's push into consumer goods and e-commerce distribution. Ingram Micro will gain exclusive use of HDS's "swarm" software for bringing different robotic systems together. It's part of a spate of deals this week that are altering the logistics tech landscape. Target Corp.'s acquisition of Grand Junction, a software business with 13 employees, is aimed at boosting the retailer's home-delivery and supply-chain capabilities. And supply-chain software heavyweight Descartes Systems Group will pay $107 million to buy MacroPoint LLC and its transportation management technology. The deals suggest the players behind automation and technology are changing even as those companies help transform the way goods are handled through supply chains.

INFRASTRUCTURE

President Donald Trump is acting to speed up consideration of infrastructure projects even as the administration's plan for highways, bridges and ports is still waiting in the wings. The president's new executive order directs federal agencies to more quickly review the environmental effects of projects, the WSJ's Ted Mann reports, fulfilling a campaign promise and addressing concerns from lawmakers in both parties who say it takes too long to get shovels moving. It's one of the few steps Mr. Trump can take on infrastructure without the help of Congress, but any action to get construction going faces an uncertain future. Republican lawmakers have been focused on health care and a tax overhaul. And there is plenty of skepticism in Washington over the administration's plan to have cities, states and private industry fund the lion's share of a program Mr. Trump says will total $1 trillion.

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Blackstone Group LP is making big bets on natural gas, and investing in the infrastructure to make production pay off. The private-equity firm has built a roughly $7 billion stake in natural gas by investing in a gas export terminal, drilling fields and pipelines, the WSJ's Ryan Dezember reports, wagering it can profit even if gas prices remain stuck at depressed levels. That's because Blackstone is banking on production volumes increasing. Most of the money is being put toward moving gas out of areas where drilling has increased and getting it to markets with strong demand. The company has put $1.5 billion toward the construction of Cheniere Energy Inc.'s facility in Sabine Pass, La., to liquefy natural gas for export, part of the big investment in the Gulf Coast region that's fueling growth at ports and U.S. energy exports. Blackstone's David Foley, who leads the firm's energy investing, likens owning infrastructure like export terminals to selling supplies to speculators during the California Gold Rush.

QUOTABLE

IN OTHER NEWS

A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S swung to a loss in the second quarter as effects of the cyberattack weighed. (WSJ)

U.S. credit-card debt climbed by $20 billion in the second quarter to the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2009. (WSJ)

Germany's second-quarter economic growth slowed to 0.6% as rising imports offset stronger domestic consumer demand and business investment. (WSJ)

Sales of existing homes in Canada fell in July for the fourth straight month. (WSJ)

Growth in U.K. producers' raw materials costs fell at the steepest rate in more than five years. (WSJ)

Amazon will issue debt to help fund its purchase of Whole Foods Markets Inc., and Moody's Investors Service says a $16 billion offering is coming. (WSJ)

Self-driving cars could transform one in nine U.S. jobs in coming years, a study says, with truck drivers among those most likely to be affected. (WSJ)

Germany's Air Berlin PLC filed for bankruptcy protection and was in talks to sell some operations to Deutsche Lufthansa AG. (WSJ)

An American man accused of using fake eBay transactions to receive Islamic State funds agreed to plead guilty to terrorism-related charges. (WSJ)

Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd. says container shipping volumes are set to grow this year at the fastest rate since 2011. (Lloyd's List)

Access to skilled labor pools has become a primary factor among retail companies in search of new distribution centers. (Forbes)

BHP Billiton will build a factory for electric-car battery materials in Australia, part of a trend among mining companies to invest in the field. (Nikkei Asian Review)

Amazon is rolling out "instant pickup" points where shoppers can retrieve items immediately after ordering them. (Reuters)

Amazon plans to open an $85 million, one million-square-foot distribution center outside Charlotte, N.C. (Charlotte Observer)

The Pacific Northwest's maritime industry is having trouble attracting new workers as much of its aging workforce nears retirement age. (Seattle Times)

The parent of British trucker and forwarder Delamode launched a share offering in London aimed at raising $6.4 million. (The Loadstar)

Chinese internet giant Baidu is starting a driverless car project aimed at making vehicles that will "be your companion." (South China Morning Post)

ABOUT US

Paul Page is deputy editor of WSJ Logistics Report. Follow him at @PaulPage, and follow the entire WSJ Logistics Report team: @brianjbaskin , @jensmithWSJ and @EEPhillips_WSJ. Follow the WSJ Logistics Report on Twitter at @WSJLogistics.

Write to Paul Page at paul.page@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 16, 2017 06:33 ET (10:33 GMT)