Helium shortage claims party store

We’re running out of helium and it’s a big deal if you’re in the balloon business. What good is a balloon without helium?

Helium is extracted from the ground but there are only three sources for the stuff: Ras Laffan Industrial City in Qatar, ExxonMobil in Wyoming and the National Helium Reserve in Texas. Thus, a shortage even though — at least according to CNN — it’s the second most abundant element in the galaxy. The problem is most of it is on the sun.

It’s a big enough shortage that Party City is closing more than 40 stores.

Almost all the stores are profitable but CNN suggests that without helium balloons, people will just buy party junk on Amazon.

Bad timing. May is a big month for balloons.

In announcing first quarter earnins, the chief executive officer said the company has signed a deal with a new helium supplier.

“We believe this new source should substantially eliminate the shortfall we are experiencing at current allocation rates and improve our ability to return to a normal level of latex and metallic balloon sales,” James Harrison said.

The helium shortage is serious business. Semiconductor makers use it in the etching of computer chips, for example.

And the U.S. government has a helium reserve in Amarillo, Texas. But not for long. It’s been winding down the reserve — Congress initially called for it to be sold off to private interests by 2013, but has extended it to 2021.