The coronavirus fallout continues to whip around the globe, disrupting companies’ strategies from Tokyo to Silicon Valley.
On Monday, Gucci canceled plans to host its 2021 cruise fashion show in San Francisco on May 18, while Target Corp. said it would axe the in-person part of an investor meeting in New York that was planned for today. Meanwhile, retail sales in Hong Kong were seen falling hard and Tokyo Fashion Week was canceled.
But even as it became more evident the disease has been spreading undetected in the U.S. for weeks, Wall Street managed to reverse its epic slide, pushing the Dow Jones industrial Average up 1,293.96 points, or 5.1 percent, to 26,703.32 on hopes that central banks would step in and stabilize markets with lower interest rates.
Most of the other major markets closed up as well, with the SSE Composite Index in Shanghai ahead 3.2 percent to 2,970.93, the FTSE 100 in London ahead 1.1 percent to 6,654.89 and the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo up 1 percent to 21,344.08.
Apparently, the coronavirus worries have gotten so bad, it’s good for Wall Street.
And that kind of bitter optimism is about the best that can be expected given the scope of the fallout, which threatens to clamp down on the global economy. Consumers in the U.S. have already started to avoid public places, according to surveys, and the flow of goods through the global supply chain has slowed as businesses work to recalibrate.
For now, fashion and retail stocks are rebounding with the market. Among the top gainers on Monday were Walmart Inc., up 7.8 percent to $116.04; Target, 6 percent to $109.13; Procter & Gamble Co., 5.3 percent to $119.25; Lululemon Athletica Inc., 4.9 percent to $228.09; The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., 4.8 percent to $192.32, and Levi Strauss & Co., 4.4 percent to $17.73.
In Europe, luxury shares had a mixed showing. LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton climbed 3 percent to 377.85 euros; Brunello Cucinelli rose 3.1 percent to 30.94 euros, and Burberry inched up less than 1 percent to 16.61 pounds, but Kering, Salvatore Ferragamo, Tod’s and Compagnie Financiere Richemont all saw declines.
With the broader U.S. market still down 9 percent since its recent high on Feb. 19, some were out looking for values. Wells Fargo analyst Ike Boruchow said Monday, “With investor concerns around China, supply chain and the overall health of the global consumer environment seemingly getting worse by the week, we believe that there are still opportunities in our space. While the entire market has been falling recently, we highlight the following ‘babies in the bathwater’ that we urge investors who can be patient to take a look at today: Tapestry Inc., Ralph Lauren Corp. and L Brands Inc.”
Boruchow noted that Tapestry’s Coach brand remains “very strong” in North America, while Ralph Lauren has low exposure to China and direct-to-consumer momentum at home and that L Brands’ Bath & Body Works will get more credit as Victoria’s Secret is jettisoned.
The problem is that it’s not just the Wall Street and fashion types working hard to understand the coronavirus. The medical community is still trying to get a handle on the disease — which appears to be mild in most cases, but more deadly than the seasonal flu to the elderly or people with compromised immune systems. Globally, over 90,000 have been diagnosed and nearly 3,100 have died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
That still pales in comparison to the 18,000 to 46,000 deaths in the U.S. from the flu so far this flu season, but that disease is much better understood and can be combated with a vaccine.
And confronted with all the uncertainty, more events are falling off the calendar.
Gucci said it would shutter plans to host its cruise 2021 fashion show in San Francisco in light of “the ongoing uncertainty prompted by the coronavirus outbreak, as a precautionary measure.”
“A decision on the new timing and location of the show will be announced at a later date, once the situation becomes clearer,” the company said. The brand’s creative director Alessandro Michele had chosen the American city for its history as a center of liberal activism and for being a cultural melting pot.
On the other end of the price spectrum, Target pulled the plug on a meeting with analysts and the media in Manhattan on Tuesday, citing concerns about the coronavirus. “Given the rapidly evolving situation, the Target leadership team has decided to cancel the in-person aspect of Tuesday’s financial community meeting,” the company said in an e-mail to invited guests. The meeting will be conducted via web cast from Target headquarters in Minneapolis after the firm reports 2019 earnings in the morning.
And organizers of Tokyo Fashion Week on Monday canceled the fall shows, scuttling what would have been Japan’s largest fashion event, scheduled for a six-day run starting March 16. Several brands, including Hyke and Vivienne Tam, had already called off their Tokyo shows.
“As apprehensions due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak rise daily, our primary and utmost concern always being the safety and security of all parties involved, after heavy discussions with related parties, we have come to the painful decision of there being no other choice than to give up Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo 2020 autumn-winter,” said a statement posted on the organization’s web site.
Tokyo was the latest casualty among the Asian fashion weeks, as Seoul, Beijing and Shanghai previously called off or postponed their events. However, as of Monday, Japan’s largest fashion trade show, Fashion World Tokyo, is still expected to go forward. It is scheduled for April 1 through 3. Organizers said last month that they would take special precautions to prevent the spread of the illness, such as providing alcohol-based hand sanitizer and checking visitors’ body temperatures at the entrance. Those with a temperature of over 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit will be asked to fill out a medical questionnaire and submit to questioning by a doctor or nurse before possibly being allowed entry.
A nationwide school closure that began Monday has also affected business in Japan, as many parents have been forced to work from home. Shiseido said last week that some 8,000 employees in the country would telecommute until at least this coming Friday. That figure excludes factory workers and sales staff at store counters, who have been given the option to work on flexible schedules in order to take care of their children. Staff who have no other option have been allowed to take up to an additional 10 days of paid leave between Monday and April 10.
Some U.S. companies are also starting to step up their response, especially in the Northwest, where there has been an outbreak.
Nike closed its global headquarters in Oregon over the weekend for a campus-wide disinfection and cleaning after a case was reported in nearby Lake Oswego, according to reports. And the brand was said to have temporarily closed its European headquarters in the Netherlands so it could be disinfected after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus.
Most New York-based fashion companies have not taken such dramatic steps, but are watching the situation closely. Here, a roundup of what some of the major firms are doing:
• Manny Chirico, chairman and chief executive officer of PVH Corp., said Monday: “From a business perspective, we are monitoring the situation closely as it evolves, including assessing daily guidance from local and national authorities, and adjusting workplace/work from home, production and travel policies in real time. We have started reopening some office and retail locations in Asia, and updating plans for others.”
• Ralph Lauren has imposed a temporary travel restriction to, from and throughout the Chinese Mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Globally, all employees who have visited the area in the last 14 days will have to stay home for a total of 14 days upon their return. The firm’s teams in China are working remotely. The company also has put money toward its Employee Relief Fund, where employees can apply for grants to help with personal hardship.
• A spokeswoman for Tapestry said: “We are continuing to monitor the evolving coronavirus outbreak closely….” Beyond the travel restrictions imposed last month (a companywide travel ban into and out of China until March 15), she said, “We have now restricted all non-critical international business travel and have completely banned business travel to countries and regions designated as ‘hot spots’ until further notice.”
Italy, where an outbreak disrupted Milan Fashion Week, has been taking exceptional measures to contain the financial impact of the coronavirus. In addition to funneling aid to the citizens and companies in the 11 towns that have been hit by the virus, the government also closed schools in the Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna regions for another eight days.
But some have complained of a heavy-handed approach.
In an interview with Italy’s daily La Repubblica on Sunday, OTB founder Renzo Rosso lamented the measures taken so far in the country, defining them as “too strict” and the “absurdity” of the reaction to the coronavirus, accusing the political class of being “unprepared” to face the outbreak, which hit Italy as “an atomic bomb” and spreading more panic than necessary.
And in Hong Kong, the coronavirus slowdown has come to a retail landscape already hit hard by persistent social unrest that interrupted parts of the city again last weekend. The city has now registered a full year of slumping retail sales, according to new figures for the month of January. Retail sales fell 21.4 percent in January compared with a year ago, to 37.8 billion Hong Kong dollars, or $7.78 billion at current exchange.
February is all but guaranteed to be worse.
Hong Kong Retail Management Association chairwoman Annie Yau Tse said that for February the association was expecting a sales drop of 40 to 60 percent in apparel and department stores, and in the categories of cosmetics and jewelry and timepieces, it was even as high as 60 to 80 percent.
The chairwoman pushed back on the idea of a quick, V-shaped rebound.
“The retail industry won’t have this expectation of something so dramatic but step by step [they] hope the drop will contract and it will get back to a more normal local consumer spending level and then talk about tourists,” she said. “It’s not like one or two months but it’s a few months or even a year to see back to previous levels.”