We’ve arrived at the halfway point of 2021. Unsurprisingly, the disposable glove market continues to be dynamic and unpredictable, thanks to—what else?—COVID-19.
Market conditions have changed in the last six months. Global demand for gloves, which more than doubled since the pandemic’s outbreak, has softened, especially in the United States.
But with the coronavirus continuing to rage in multiple regions around the world, the need for gloves will be robust for the foreseeable future.
Glove supply is, quite simply, limited. The current shortage is exacerbated by difficulties manufacturers face in the cost of raw materials, decreased production capacity, workforce challenges, and shipping obstacles. Given that companies are having a hard time accurately forecasting demand, we can expect elevated prices to stick around.
The pandemic is nowhere near over
In the U.S., the vaccination program has gone well, resulting in declining rates of infections and deaths. Most of the world, however, remains squarely in the throes of the pandemic.
Ongoing outbreaks in Southeast Asia and India continue to be a crisis. Other countries are bracing for a new wave. COVID-19 has infected more than 180 million people and killed nearly 4 million globally since January 2020.
The number of infections have accelerated in some of the larger populations, such as Russia and Indonesia. The more harmful COVID-19 variants known as delta and gamma, which appear to be more easily spread and may be associated with increased severity of the disease, have surged in the U.K. and Brazil, stoking fears that it could happen in the U.S.
Southeast Asia’s suffering continues
In Malaysia and Thailand, where 80% of nitrile and latex gloves are produced, health authorities have raised concerns about a growing number of coronavirus deaths after a surge in overall infections forced Malaysia into a strict lockdown. With the lockdown now extended, and restrictions on movement tightened in the capital, the supply of gloves will be directly impacted.
Despite increases in output by some glovemakers and a vow by a national trade group that no shortages in PPE production will occur, Malaysia’s latest movement control order has limited workforces to about 60% of normal capacity. Outbreaks of coronavirus among factory workers have hampered productivity and forced companies into internal quarantines.
The workforce is not where it needs to be
The deficit in labor is expected to cause continuing challenges. Malaysia’s glove industry employed nearly 72,000 workers in 2019, about 39% of whom were native-born with the remainder being foreign migrants. The industry needs to grow its workforce by about 25,000 workers, but a freeze on recruiting overseas workers complicates matters.
These disruptions will continue to weigh down disposable glove supply, and global demand will likely continue to keep prices elevated, compared to pre-COVID levels, for the rest of 2021 and into 2022.
Next week: Supply chain challenges will be with us for a while.