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What is a Supply Shock?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A supply shock is an unexpected event that changes supply availability, causing a corresponding shift in demand and pricing. Supply shocks can be positive, meaning an increase of supplies is available, or negative, with a decrease in availability. In both cases, they can sometimes cause a ripple effect in the economy if the supply in question is a key component of the economy, as in the case of sudden changes in the availability of oil.

Positive supply shocks happen when something occurs to increase the expected supply of something. This can commonly occur with agriculture, where unusually good weather might result in a bumper crop. While this might sound beneficial for farmers, it can actually create a problem, because as the availability of a crop increases, demand drops. Prices will fall, and the situation may reach the point where it is more cost effective to plow the crops under than to bring them to market. This can also happen when too many farmers decide to produce a crop in a given year, not realizing that others have increased their planned output as well.

Negative supply shocks decrease the supply of something. Natural disasters and industrial accidents are a common cause for negative supply shock, as they damage supplies or make it impossible to move them. Refinery fires, for example, may decrease available refined oil products like gasoline. Demand will rise, and prices will increase in response. People who are positioned well can take advantage of a negative supply shock to sell goods off at high prices.

Geopolitical events can also be contributors to both positive and negative supply shocks. Anything from opening borders to setting new policies may affect the supply of certain items. When prices rise or fall dramatically, connected products and commodities can also take a hit. In the example of oil supply shock, for instance, high oil prices drive up the costs of everything produced with oil, from produce to plastics.

By its nature, a supply shock is unpredictable. However, people in business do attempt to take steps to consider possible sources of supply shock so they can address them if they occur. Farmers may buy insurance to protect themselves from crop damages as well as overproduction, for example. People involved in stock and futures trading also remain alert to early warning signs indicative of potential supply shock, keeping in mind that these signs can sometimes be very subtle.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By cafe41 — On Jul 09, 2011

@Oasis11 - I remember those days and it was tough, but I also want to say that we really live in a unique economic time because we have considerable levels of inflation for many consumer products, but interest rates are at an all time low and housing prices could not be lower.

In fact, I think that there is a favorable supply shock with respect to the housing market because the amount of foreclosures on the market seems never ending. These homes are also creating downward pressure in housing prices in many communities. In fact, there are so many homes on the market that sellers are having a hard time selling their homes because they have to compete with the bargain basement pricing of many of the foreclosed properties.

By oasis11 — On Jul 09, 2011

I remember in the late 1970’s, we had an adverse supply shock with respect to oil. I was kid at the time but I remember that there were gasoline shortages and long lines at the pump.

It was kind of scary. There was also upward pressure on prices in general which caused demand inflation for many products and services. This stagflation also made the demand of money to go up as banks were charging double digit interest rates in order to process loans for consumers. It was a very expensive time in our nation’s history.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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