Fashion is limping into another week.
Over the weekend, New York state declared a state of emergency and Italy locked down the Lombardy region and other provinces, impacting 16 million people and bringing normal life in the fashion and business capital of Milan to a virtual standstill as officials sought to contain the coronavirus.
Last week, the stock market plummeted, South by Southwest was canceled, the Copenhagen Fashion Summit and Vision Expo East were pushed off and the outbreak landed in New York’s fashion industry, shuttering Gap Inc.’s office.
President Trump signed an $8.3 billion emergency spending bill and the Federal Reserve also made a surprise cut to interest rates to pump more money into the economy. But the outlook is worsening, with forecasters seeing a slowdown sapping growth.
Target Corp. and other retailers might be ringing up aggressive buying, with hand sanitizer and bottled water flying off the shelves as people stock up, but that won’t power the economy.
Research firm IHS Markit said “fear and financial stress” from COVID-19 would “materially weaken 2020 GDP growth” in the U.S.
That’s being felt first in the stock market.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 256.50 points, or 1 percent, to 25,864.78 on Friday, marking a 12.5 percent drop since the market’s all-time high on Feb. 12. European markets took an even steeper dive to end the week, led by Paris’ CAC 40, which fell 4.1 percent to 5,139.11.
Among the global decliners were Asos plc, down 7.2 percent to 27.32 pounds; Farfetch, 5.5 percent to $11.39; Tod’s SpA, 4.5 percent to 28.06 euros; Burberry Group SpA, 4 percent to 15.98 pounds; LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, 3.8 percent to 360.35 euros, and Kering SA, 3.6 percent to 483.50 euros.
“Equity values have dropped roughly 10 percent over the last two weeks, wiping out roughly $4 trillion of household net worth, or about $31,000 per household,” IHS said on Friday.
“Unless reversed fully and quickly, this will weigh on consumer spending over the next few years,” IHS said. “More immediately, weakening consumer attitudes will likely slow consumer spending in the second quarter, and businesses are likely to put some investment plans on hold until the outlook clears up.”
The group expects gross domestic produce growth in the U.S. to fall from 2 percent in the first quarter to 1.1 percent in the second. Growth this year is forecast for 1.8 percent this year, down from the 2.1 percent seen as recently as last month.
Businesses already have enough to deal with.
Gap shut down its Manhattan office at 55 Thomas Street after an employee there was diagnosed with the coronavirus, according to published reports. The company did not respond to requests for comment.
COVID-19, in addition to existential change in the retail landscape, makes for a trial by fire for Sonia Syngal, who was just elevated to president and chief executive officer of the company after overseeing the Old Navy unit.
So far, Manhattan has avoided the brunt of the outbreak, which in the majority of cases causes only mild symptoms but can be deadly to the elderly or to people with compromised immune systems.
There is a flurry of cases in New Rochelle, just north of the city, but the West Coast has generally been hit much harder. California has declared a state of emergency while the tech giants, including Amazon, have advised their Seattle employees to work from home for the rest of the month.
Globally, there have been 107,000 confirmed cases. While over half of those people have recovered, 3,658 have died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Nike Inc. earlier closed its European office and sanitized its U.S. headquarters, according to reports, and 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 outbreak is also taking over the digital world.
COVID-19 not only caused many influencers to skip Paris Fashion Week this season, it also dented social media interactions around the event.
The outbreak was probably a factor in the 65 percent dip in Twitter conversation about Paris Fashion Week compared to last year, according to ListenFirst, a data and analytics company, which tracked social media during the week from Feb. 25 through March 3.
And getting together lots of people in one place in the real world just isn’t going to fly right now.
• Austin canceled the South by Southwest festival — a key stop on the tech and cultural calendar that was scheduled to start March 13. “As recently as Wednesday, Austin Public Health stated that ‘there’s no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer.’ However, this situation evolved rapidly, and we honor and respect the City of Austin’s decision,” said organizers, who are looking at alternatives.
• Copenhagen Fashion Summit, an influential forum on sustainability which was scheduled for May, was pushed back to October on COVID-19 fears. “We believe it is the only responsible and sensible thing to do, taking the global health uncertainties and authority recommendations into consideration,” summit organizers said.
• And Vision Expo East, set to be held March 26 to 29 in New York, will instead be “consolidated” with its sister event Vision Expo West, which is scheduled for Sept. 23 to 26 in Las Vegas. “This was a difficult decision for our organization, but ultimately, the Vision Council’s board of directors believes the safety and well-being of our members, exhibitors, attendees and staff must come first. Furthermore, we want to be respectful to the exhibitors and attendees who would not be able to attend Vision Expo East due to travel restrictions,” said Ashley Mills, ceo of The Vision Council.
The global spread of the virus and the attendant cancellations have made it all the more clear that the impact is for real and will have business repercussions.
Andrew Challenger, vice president of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said the COVID-19 fallout had already led to some layoffs.
“No doubt concerns over the virus will impact retail, hospitality and travel in the short term, especially as people begin to stay away from crowds,” he said. “We could see people stop eating out, going to department stores or taking unnecessary trips.
“The economy is doing well, in part, because of a strong consumer. Virus concerns may change that,” he said. “Typically, companies can hold on to their workers for possibly two quarters of lower-than-expected growth before cutting.”
The first quarter seems like a lost cause already in many ways. And the second quarter looks none-to-promising.