The panic is back on.
After a day of relative calm, coronavirus fears whipped back up on Thursday as stocks tanked, Giorgio Armani and Versace postponed runway shows, Givaudan closed a research site near Zurich, Lotus India Fashion Week was canceled and Shoptalk was pushed back six months to September.
In the most-pointed example of how COVID-19 has shaken up the status quo, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 969.58 points, or 3.6 percent, to 26,121.28.
That’s an abrupt about-face for investors.
Markets were up strongly on Wednesday as fears of the coronavirus fallout appeared to ebb and investors cheered the rise of Joe Biden in the Democratic primary, which marked strengthening support for a more centrist stance in presidential politics. But the Dow is still down 11 percent since its recent high on Feb. 19 and the worries around COVID-19 are more real than ever.
With new cases in New York, a state of emergency in California, tech giants like Amazon and Facebook telling their Seattle employees to work at home, the closure of schools in Italy, wall-to-wall media coverage and more, the outbreak is outpacing people and businesses trying to keep up.
It’s a global condition — and whether the health effect on a personal level is a dangerous respiratory problem, a sore throat or nothing at all, businesses are getting walloped.
Shares in Europe were also down, with the CAC 40 in Paris off 1.9 to 5,361.10 and the FTSE MIB in Milan falling 1.8 percent to 21,554.88. Luxury stocks fell with the market with declines from Salvatore Ferragamo, down 5.1 percent to 12.97 euros; Brunello Cucinelli, 4.5 percent to 29.68 euros; LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, 2.8 percent to 374.55 euros, and Kering, 2.4 percent to 501.50 euros.
Among the day’s biggest decliners in the U.S. were Abercrombie & Fitch Co., decreasing 14.4 percent to $11.67; Nordstrom Inc., 10.7 percent to $29.37; G-III Apparel Group, 9.9 percent to $19.66; Macy’s Inc., 8.5 percent to $11.58; Tapestry Inc., 7.4 percent to $22.22; Capri Holdings, 7.1 percent to $23.36, and Canada Goose Holdings Inc., 5.5 percent to $25.36. (One notable exception was luxury platform Farfetch, which has a large business in the slowly rebounding China and holds little inventory and managed to gain 4.5 percent to $12.05).
Governments around the world have pledged to fight the outbreak, which is most dangerous to the elderly and people with a compromised immune system. The Federal Reserve took the surprise step this week of cutting its benchmark interest rate by 0.5 percentage points to boost the economy.
But it hasn’t been enough to counter the growing realization that there will be no easy fix for the economic fallout.
In Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte revealed plans to spend 7.5 billion euros to support the economy, the sectors and the workers more exposed to COVID-19 — more than double the amount proposed earlier.
“These are extraordinary and urgent measures,” said Conte.
Standard & Poor’s forecast the impact of COVID-19 would push Italy into a recession in 2020 with a 0.3 percent contraction in the country’s gross domestic product, compared with the growth rate of 0.4 percent foreseen in December. For the entire eurozone, the contraction is pegged at 0.5 percent, with growth that is expected to slide from 1 to 0.5 percent.
In addition to closing schools until March 15, Italy has laid out rules to prevent the infection, which include keeping a distance of about three feet from one another, and avoiding handshakes. Sports events are still to be held behind closed doors. Smart working is still strongly advised.
The spread of COVID-19 in Europe and the U.S. is just the latest turn in what has been a quick-moving disaster for fashion, business and the millions of people impacted by the new illness. Already, sales in China have taken a big hit, supply chains have been tangled up, business travelers have been grounded and surveys showed consumers in the U.S. have begun to avoid public places.
According to Adobe Analytics, which monitors online purchasing activity by U.S. consumers, during January and February purchase of virus protection products such as hand sanitizers, gloves, masks and anti-bacterial sprays surged 817 percent.
Over-the-counter drug purchases have gone up as well with cold, cough and flu products increasing 198 percent and pain relievers up 152 percent. Also seeing increases were toilet paper, up 186 percent; nonperishables such as canned goods and shelf-stable items, up 69 percent, and emergency supplies and equipment, up 58 percent.
And more events were canceled or pushed back as businesses implemented stricter travel policies and people hunker down.
Armani postponed its cruise show in Dubai, which was scheduled for April 19 and 20, but will now be held in November. The designer had scheduled the event in Dubai to show his cruise 2021 collection, coinciding with the reopening of the Giorgio Armani boutique at the Dubai Mall and marking the first decade of the Armani Hotel in the city. The event is now set to be held on the occasion of the Expo 2020, scheduled in Dubai from Oct. 20 to April 10, 2021. Due to the timing, it would be too late for a cruise show, but Armani plans to hold a runway show, whose details will be finalized at a later moment.
Separately, Versace said “after careful consideration and the restrictions which are being placed on travel for many at this time,” it would postpone its coed cruise show, slated to be held on May 16 in a still undisclosed location in the U.S. The company said it was “conscious of the need to prioritize the health and safety of its guests and employees and will inform all parties involved on new plans as soon as possible.”
The fashion calendar is being reshuffled as brands and organizations react to the health emergency. On Monday, Gucci said it was canceling plans to host its cruise 2021 fashion show in San Francisco on May 18, without announcing a new timing and location.
And leaders of Shoptalk, the annual retail and e-commerce event set to be held later this month in Las Vegas, decided to reschedule the conference for mid-September.
Just this week, representatives of the conference had held firm that the four-day event would go on as planned, simply without attendees from certain countries, including China and Iran, where the COVID-19 virus has been widespread.
“The guidance of various health and safety organizations and our commitment to ensuring the well-being of our community necessitated the shift,” an event spokeswoman said. “We considered input from many of our sponsors, attendees and speakers, as well as the impact of widespread corporate travel restrictions during March across the retail industry.”
Many other major annual events like Google I/O, Facebook’s F8 event and Mobile World Congress have been canceled or postponed.
All of that adds up. According to a report in Vox based on data analysis from PredictHQ, the economic impact from canceled conferences and the related travel and consumer spending is estimated to be around $500 million.
Western companies are also increasingly having to disrupt their operations to fight off the outbreak.
Swiss fragrance and flavors supplier Givaudan closed one of its research sites near Zurich on Wednesday after someone who had briefly visited there tested positive for COVID-19. The research unit was closed voluntarily by the company as a matter of precaution, not at the request of authorities, a Givaudan spokeswoman said.
She added that a deep cleaning of the facility, which employs about 400 people and is based in the suburb of Kemptthal, began on Thursday morning. That should last a few days.
The company’s three production sites nearby remain operational.
There have been a total of 97,879 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tally. And while 53,786 have recovered and most cases are mild, a total of 3,347 people have died.