The economic wreckage wrought by the coronavirus is at this point both hard to miss and hard to oversell. The markets on Monday (March 9) were a bloodbath, showed signs of improvement Tuesday and by Wednesday midday started falling fast again as continued uncertainty on a variety of fronts rattled investors and sent them retreating.
What’s next? Even the experts at this point agree that question in the broadest sense remains mostly unanswerable, since conditions on the ground are updated hourly amid the continued spread of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus. There are too many unknowns, and so while the consensus is that bracing for a bumpy ride is a good idea, for how long, how bumpy and who will bear the brunt of the bumps all remain uncertain.
But while the larger trendlines are setting up and taking shape, there is a smaller subset of businesses that aren’t so much getting a beating from the COVID-19 outbreak as a boost from it. Some of those winners are expected — and some are a bit more surprising.
The Usual Suspects
As one might justly expect, being in the business of cleaners and canned goods is particularly advantageous at present, as consumers are looking for items with long shelf lives to hunker down with and products to keep their immediate environments as germ-free as possible.
Clorox has seen its stock price hit a 52-week high as both digital and physical merchants are reporting a hard time keeping its various bleach-based cleaning agents on shelves. And Clorox isn’t the only firm feeling the consumer cleanliness bump — most of the items that made the CDC’s approved products list, including peroxide, Lysol and Purell products, have all seen shortages as consumers empty shelves to stock up ahead of the outbreak. According to most recent data from Nielsen, total U.S. dollar sales of hand sanitizer increased by 313.4 percent between Feb. 22 and Feb. 29.
That, incidentally, has also meant boomtown for price gougers on online platforms, who have in some cases increased the price of a bottle of Purell from about $4.50 to as much as $50. But that boom has been hit by crackdowns from many sides — something we will talk more about in a minute.
But first, the other unsurprising winner of the COVID-19 scare seems to be streaming services, according to LA Times reporting. Apparently once they are well stocked with snacks and properly disinfected, people are looking for things to do. Figures are still hard to come by and the big streaming services have offered limited commentary on the use figures — but services like Netflix have seen their stock prices stay relatively stable in extremely turbulent times, as the connection between consumers stuck inside and streaming isn’t an incredibly difficult logical leap to make.
“Quarantine and bingeing are actually a match made in some macabre sort of heaven,” Robert Thompson, a director for the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University told the LA Times.
As media reports have noted, home food delivery platforms go with that mix as well. Californians like Rohit Kulkarni noted that while they are changing routines to make exposure less likely, options abound to make that a lot less painful than it might have been even a decade ago.
“As you tend to stay at home more, you tend to watch more Netflix, you tend to order food in as there are more options to deliver food at home,” he said.
And while cleansers, streaming and food delivery aren’t exactly stunning spikes to see in the midst of a viral outbreak and subsequent quarantine, they also aren’t the only ones. COVID-19, and more specifically, attempts at mitigating it have spurred some far more out-of-the box efforts.
The Unusual Suspects
While “spike in private jet travel” is not a phrase one generally expects, especially during a period of economic uncertainty as is currently afoot, the year 2020 has been full of all kinds of surprises. And private jet travel is, in fact, booming.
Demand for private flights from Hong Kong to Australia and North America jumped 214 percent in January, according to Lidor Revah, CEO of private jet booking software company Imperium Jets. Revah told Quartz that those flights tend to price out — for 12 to 14 passengers — at between $250,000 and $300,000. Costly, to be sure, and unlikely to be chosen by all but the most monied passengers. But still possibly a bargain price — as the number of global flights has been curtailed, the price of first-class tickets to places like Hong Kong have ballooned to $35,000 a pop. A first-class traveler with 11 to 13 equally well-capitalized friends could save several thousand dollars flying private — and have the ability to customize travel to their plans, as opposed to taking one of the one or two flights available daily.
Another unexpected, but rapidly emerging, winner in the COVID-19 outbreak seems to be educational technology makers — particularly those specializing in remote or tele-learning platforms. As universities — and in some places primary schools as well — are shutting down temporarily around the world, a spike in demand has been observable globally over the last six weeks, according to reports.
There have also been a series of unusual and unexpected moves from public entities in the U.S. and around the world to push consumer protection.
Some of those have been massive. The U.K. has announced a $39 billion stimulus package to combat the coronavirus with its borders. That move followed an earlier announcement of a surprise interest rate cut by the BoE, dropping its benchmark rate to 25 percent. U.S. President Donald Trump has spoken of an American coronavirus stimulus package — but so far no details have emerged. In Italy, mortgage payments have been suspended nationwide in the face of a national quarantine that has left many people physically unable to go to work.
And then there have been the smaller — and really unexpected — interventions. Facing hand sanitizer shortages, New York State has turned its prisoner population loose on manufacturing their own. As of today, that product is only available to New York State employees, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that if supply chain issues continue, and price gouging continues unabated, New York will begin selling its product on the open market.
“We're hearing from local governments that they’re having trouble getting it,” said Cuomo during a press conference. “To Purell and Mr. Amazon and Mr. eBay, if you continue the price gouging, we will introduce our product, which is superior to your product.”
He also noted, with evident pride, that competitors’ products lacked the “floral bouquet” of the artisanal hand sanitizer made by New York inmates.
As we said, it is a strange world out there right now.
But also one in which opportunities — however unexpected — continue to abound. And one where some players are even thriving.