Coronavirus picks economic winners and losers


A US Centers for Disease Control computer rendering of Covid-19, the strand of coronavirus that’s currently wreaking economic havoc around the world

Coronavirus is an economic opportunity now that the disease is in 85 countries and territories, up from 50 a week ago. Some sectors such as home exercise bikes, hand sanitisers and virtual office software are booming. So Peloton, the company that makes exercise bikes, and Purell hand sanitizer-maker Gojo Industries are having a good first quarter. So also, presumably, is Slack, the cloud-based instant messaging platform that allows for easy remote working. And ZoomTeledoc and Dropbox, all of which link people across physical distance.

Of the 500 publicly-traded companies in the US, the seven that gained value last week included Clorox, the disinfectant manufacturer, and Gilead Sciences and Regeneron, which are working on coronavirus treatments. (Full disclosure: I have Gilead stock.)

Incidentally, opportunists are doing excellently too. Hand sanitiser and respiratory masks have been offered on Amazon at a more than 2,000 per cent mark-up – a pack of 20 masks manufactured by 3M and sold by an unauthorised reseller, was being offered at $387 instead of the normal retail price of $14.99. A pack of 24 2oz bottles of Purell hand sanitiser was listed at $400 instead of $10.

But look at who’s losing from the coronavirus outbreak. Travel companies — including cruise lines, airlines and hotel chains — are suffering. This has knock-on effects, with the UK’s ITV warning on Thursday (March 5) that its ad sales would drop 10 per cent in April as travel companies had stopped spending on marketing.

Who else is feeling the sickening effects of the virus? The London Book Fair, which has been cancelled. Japanese sushi restaurants, which have had to halt the conveyor belts that carry plates directly to customers’ tables to prevent hand-to-hand infection. And Japan’s top tourist attraction – the famous cherry blossom season – is going to be a pallid affair this year with Tokyo’s government urging residents not to gather for traditional blossom viewing parties in city parks.

It’s an unlikely list of economic winners and losers but then, there was nothing likely about the moment we’re in.