As the coronavirus health crisis boils over in the U.S. and Europe, another kind of crisis is building.
With Italy, France and Spain virtually closing down and more retailers on both sides of the Atlantic doing the same — PVH Corp. is the latest, shutting 1,000 doors — a gigantic hole is opening up in the industry’s books.
Put the stakes at at least $150 billion.
That includes the official $68 billion tally of March and April sales last year at U.S. fashion specialty stores and department stores as well as the equivalent of $82 billion in apparel sales from Europe and Canada, according to estimates by WWD and forecasting firm Customer Growth Partners.
Stores were mostly open for the first part of this month, many remain operating for now and some of the sales lost to brick-and-mortar stores will be made up online.
But ultimately that is just too big a hole to fill.
The focus right now is on everybody’s health and well-being, with Walmart Inc. and Target Corp. working with the government to create drive-through COVID-19 testing centers and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton flexing its high-end beauty manufacturing muscle and putting it toward making free hand sanitizer. There are also a host of other important issues, including pay for hourly workers sent home, price gouging and more.
But the financial reckoning will come.
Already companies are looking at their options. Getting initial lines of credit for some extra financial cushioning, cutting back on spending projects and reducing prices — although price cuts for goods in stores that are closed or not attracting any shoppers are not going to be effective.
Right now there’s little indication of just how long it will all last, although there is some hope in the fact that retail in China is starting to open back up after being hit hard in late January.
Even so, the pain from the Chinese shutdown, which kept millions from venturing out, is becoming clearer.
Chinese retail sales plunged 20.5 percent during January and February versus a year earlier, while industrial output was down 13.5 percent, and fixed asset investment — a measure of expenditure on items including infrastructure, property, machinery and equipment — fell by nearly 25 percent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
That was the weakest reading since January 1990, when Reuters records started, and a sharp reversal of the 6.9 percent growth seen in December.
March’s figures could look even worse — as for most of January, China was running business as usual and the data for the two months taken together could soften the impact.
“There is nothing in the history of this data to compare to this set of abysmal figures,” said Iris Pang, Greater China chief economist for ING. “Retail sales have recovered only very slowly as consumers are still wary about going into shopping malls and restaurants. This could continue as there are some imported COVID-19 cases in major cities.”
The figures offered a glimpse of what the U.S. could be in for. And investors know it.
Wall Street fell hard — again — on Monday and even after the Federal Reserve cut its bench market interest rate to nearly zero to support the economy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 2,997.10 points, or 12.9 percent, to 20,188.52, leaving the market down a nauseating 31.7 percent since its all-time high on Feb. 12. European stocks posted somewhat lesser, but still stark, declines, including in Milan’s FTSE MIB, which dropped 6.1 percent, to 14,980.34.
Nearly every company was down, including Tailored Brands Inc., off 34.2 percent to $1.35; Capri Holdings Ltd., 30.7 percent to $9.66; G-III Apparel Group, 30.5 percent to $10.55; Tapestry Inc., 29.3 percent to $11.48; RealReal Inc., 25.6 percent to $6.47; PVH Corp., 19.1 percent to $40.75 ; Ralph Lauren Corp., 14.4 percent to $71.60; Estee Lauder Cos. Inc., 13.4 percent to $148.98; Burberry Group, 10.4 percent to 12.42 pounds; Moncler, 7.8 percent to 27.39 euros; Kering, 6.8 percent to 377.60 euros, and LVMH, 5.5 percent to 297.60 euros.
Even jeweler Tiffany & Co., which LVMH has agreed to buy for $135 a share, lost 9.6 percent to $115.68 — indicating investors are either starting to worry over the deal, or just needing to get money out of the market no matter what.
Stock prices reflect the psychological and monetary pressures investors are feeling and the prospects of the companies themselves.
And the prospects just aren’t great right now.
Goldman Sachs & Co. said it expects “U.S. economic activity to contract sharply in the remainder of March and throughout April as virus fears lead consumers and businesses to continue to cut back on spending such as travel, entertainment and restaurant meals. Emerging supply chain disruptions and the recent tightening in financial conditions will likely add to the growth hit.”
All told, the bank is now looking for no gross domestic product growth in the first quarter for the U.S., followed by a drop of 5 percent in the second quarter and gains of 3 and 4 percent in the third and fourth quarters, respectively.
This takes Goldman’s 2020 forecast to an overall gain of 0.4 percent, down from the previously projected increase of 1.2 percent — essentially an economic gut punch, but not a complete knockout. But that barely there growth compares with what is widely expected to be a recession as well in Europe as Italy and Spain are shut down and France on Monday joined them, with French president Emanuel Macron telling citizens to stay home for at least the next 15 days or else they will be sanctioned.
Then again, estimates for anything COVID-19 related still involve plenty of guesswork.
The illness and the reaction to it are simply moving too fast.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday proposed restricting all nonessential travel into the European Union for at least 30 days. The plan, which must be approved by European leaders — although already backed by Macron — would grant a certain number of exemptions, and provides for fast lanes giving priority to essential transport to ensure economic continuity.
Last week, the U.S. barred most Europeans from traveling to the U.S. as the world started to try to de-globalize — at least for the time being.
Speaking ahead of a video conference of European finance ministers on Monday, Mário Centeno, president of the Eurogroup, said the European economy was experiencing the equivalent of a war.
“We know the virus hasn’t reached its peak. We must not kid ourselves — these are the first steps in a temporary but long fight. Forced containment is bringing our economies to warlike times,” he said in a video message.
Even before Macron’s statement late Monday, Galeries Lafayette had closed all of its stores except for the grocery section of its Eataly outpost in the Marais district of Paris. It declined to comment on the expected financial impact of the closures.
Printemps and its urban apparel store chain Citadium also closed. It declined to estimate the expected financial prejudice.
Le Bon Marché, part of luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is keeping open only its two main La Grande Épicerie food halls in Paris. A smaller Grande Épicerie store inside Saint-Lazare train station is closed.
All LVMH-owned stores across France, including Louis Vuitton, Dior and Celine flagships, had been shuttered since Sunday after Prime Minister Édouard Philippe ordered the closure of all nonessential businesses, like retail shops, restaurants, cafés and cinemas.
Following the group’s announcement that it plans to produce and distribute hand sanitizer to French authorities for free, a spokesman said the first bottles would be ready on Monday and LVMH expects to produce 12 tons of hand sanitizer this week, ramping up production in the following weeks.
Spanish retail chain El Corte Inglés said it would keep open its grocery and staple goods sections and step up click-and-collect services, with goods to be picked up in the parking lots of shopping malls. For those without an Internet connection, it is also offering phone assistance.
The group said it would continue to operate around 300 stores, including all Supercor supermarkets, Hipercor hypermarkets and grocery and basic goods sections within El Corte Inglés department stores.
In France, The National Association of Shopping Centers, the CNCC, said it had immediately ordered the closure of all nonessential businesses in shopping centers until April 15 and put in place measures to guarantee access to exempted stores.
It called on landlords to allow for monthly payments of rents and charges due in the second quarter, and to temporarily suspend the collection of rents and charges for the month of April, pending new government decisions.
The group also asked the government to implement emergency measures to help those businesses affected, and said online retailers who stand to benefit from the closure of physical stores should contribute to the national effort.
And PVH, parent to Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, following other companies such as Nike and Apple, said it would close all of its owned stores in North America through March 29. Associates at the 1,000 stores will continue to receive full pay and benefits for their scheduled shifts.
PVH’s company’s offices remain open, but all associates are working remotely in North America and Europe with a few exceptions.
The company noted that many of its stores in the Asia Pacific region have reopened, although stores in some regions are operating on reduced hours. Store traffic there has shown some improvement over the past month, but it remains down significantly compared with a year ago.
“We know many people — our associates, consumers, partners and communities — are feeling uncertain as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Health and safety remain our top priorities,” said Manny Chirico, chairman and chief executive officer of PVH Corp. “This is an unprecedented and rapidly changing situation to which we will need to continue to adapt. We want to thank everyone in our organization, as well as our partners, for their dedication to our business and the support they’re providing to each other as we all rally together during this time. We’re confident that together we will show our resilience and bounce back. We urge everyone to be safe and engage in the health protections urged by health authorities.”
Safety first. But soon, the bottom line will be coming into focus.