The impact on business of COVID-19 is like nothing we have ever seen before. In just a couple of months, the global economy has turned upside down, bankrupting businesses and forcing tens of millions of people out of work. Estimates from international organisations and assorted experts in the world's financial markets suggest that it could take years before economies recuperate from this unprecedented public health crisis. In every aspect of business, the consensus is that nothing will ever be the same again, from more companies adopting work-from-home policies to limited retail traffic.
Despite these apocalyptic predictions, however, not everybody has been impacted negatively so far. Indeed, there has been a marked divide in the new Coronavirus economy; while it has been a blood bath on Main Street and Wall Street, there have been plenty of brands and individuals who have reaped the rewards of chaos.
So, who are these folks? Here are the business winners and losers of COVID-19 so far.
For many consumers, one of the companies that has made the Coronavirus pandemic a lot more tolerable is Amazon. Forever in thrall to CEO Jeff Bezos' 'customer-first' mantra, it has served as an essential and fully-functioning lifeline for consumers, fulfilling orders as varied as books, tablets and televisions to three year-supplies of toilet paper.
Indeed, Amazon has had a commendable 2020 overall, advancing their share value by around 30%, although the stay-at-home stock is beginning to stall due to sliding momentum. No matter what happens, however, Amazon has confirmed that it is a dependable brand in the middle of a crisis.
When millions of people are required to stay at home throughout a global pandemic, what else are they supposed to do? In such circumstances, 'Netflix and chill' has become the new universal pastime, with households binging the online streaming platform's content (everything from classic cinema to a man breeding tigers) to the company's full technical capacity.
Netflix stock has performed rather well under the circumstances, falling to a three-month low of around $300 per share during the market mayhem of March 2020. It is unclear if the company is going to capitalise on the rise in viewership, but in the short term, the company did announce that it would be automatically cancelling inactive memberships to help meet the demand and continue its unrivalled dominance of the market.
Is Zoom a reliable and viable video conferencing service? Or is it a speculative, pump and dump company that will diminish on the other side of the COVID-19 lockdown? We will wait to see what the future has in store for the videoconferencing software, but the company has witnessed sudden and enormous growth, helping its shares spike by 160% year-to-date. In fact, the software has become so widely used that researchers have discovered a new global phenomenon known as ‘Zoom fatigue’, whereby individuals get tired of having to perform in front of the camera.
That said, with more companies transitioning their operations to remote environments, the opportunities for Zoom – and indeed their competitors – are hugely promising. Time will tell if it can overcome its documented security issues, as well as the inevitable marketing onslaught from more established competitors such as Skype.
The scarcity of sanitation and disinfectant products has been well documented during this crisis; after all, when was the last time you got your hands on a container of alcohol gel? The massive demand for such products, produced by companies such as Clorox, is music to the ears of their investors and shareholders, even if their supply and distribution chains have been working overtime.
It may not have been the sexiest stock to own a year ago, but investors will be rattling their heads over turning down shares in the company earlier this year.
Peloton might be the biggest surprise on this list due to its barrage of bad publicity in recent times, specifically in regard to the fallout of its disastrous Christmas television commercial.
It turns out, however, that consumers care more about the company's state-of-the-art exercise equipment than the slightly tone-deaf approach of its marketing efforts – particularly in a world where gyms are closed and going outside for exercise is tricky. This is evident in the stock price, which has risen by 40% since the public health crisis reached the United States. Like other stay-at-home stocks, however, Peloton's momentum has stalled as restrictions ease.
Once families have exhausted their Netflix library, what else is there to pass the time? Old-fashioned fun, of course, in the guise of timeless board games. Consumers have been scooping up puzzles, tabletop games, and a myriad of other distractions to prevent themselves from losing their minds stuck at home. But while the company's medium-term future remains in limbo due to shifting supply chains, the company is optimistic that it can meet its sales target this coming Christmas, with the COVID-19 boom sure to help.
All over the world, meat prices have been soaring while supermarket shelves are bare. Many factors are contributing to this, of course, including manufacturers having to adjust operations, skyrocketing demand, and overall price inflation.
As a result of this scarcity, therefore, consumers are now looking at plant-based protein alternatives – particularly those offered by Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat. Analysts warn that the brand's 100% upward trajectory since the market bottom is unsustainable, but, given the rise in popularity of plant-based diets and lifestyles – and the ongoing argument around the effects of meat consumption on the environment – the company seems well placed to continue to thrive. Besides, if beef, pork, and poultry continue to prove expensive for a prolonged time, households will have no other alternative but to pick up a pea protein hamburger or a tofu hot dog for their evening meal.
The world is uniting to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, with numerous companies entering the first phase of human trials at the time of writing. Some of these results have been positive, while others have been disappointing; either way, investors in biotech organisations such as Moderna and iBio have witnessed an enormous surge in sector growth. From government funding to private-sector investments, these businesses have experienced a massive cash injection to the point where even a failure to deliver the goods will not damage their bottom lines.
In the US, central banks, led by the Federal Reserve, have initiated something unprecedented: buying corporate debt. To ensure private companies are concentrating on maintaining payroll and keeping their doors open, central banks have chosen to take corporations' debt off their books by purchasing exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in the secondary market. This is the first time this has happened, but in the post-COVID world, this merely represents the new normal; either way, it has proven beneficial for many indebted companies and corporate bond investors.
William - stock.adobe.com
Richard Branson's Virgin brand has been one of the hardest-hit airlines in the industry, with the British entrepreneur desperately trying to save Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia from the brink of collapse ever since the virus' outbreak.
Of course, with flights all over the world grounded, and the entire travel and leisure industry struggling, Virgin isn't the only victim, but it is arguably the highest profile. This has prompted the billionaire to seek government bailout funding, as well as sell shares in Virgin Galactic to raise capital for their sister companies. As with many other airlines, its short and long-term future remains in doubt.
As with the airline industry, the consensus is that it will take years for the cruise industry to return to normal – if it ever does. Industry giant Carnival has perhaps been the biggest victim of COVID-19's economic fallout, with its reputation hammered by the virus and its immediate future cloudy. Although it received a foreign cash injection, it may not be enough for the company – and others like it – to survive in the post-Coronavirus economy, even if consumer interest improves.
Like other restaurants and pubs, the UK-based Wetherspoons chain has been forced to shut down its hundreds of locations across the country, losing out on vast amounts of revenue.
Perhaps more damaging to the brand, though, has been the reaction of the chain's divisive founder and owner, Tim Martin. A fierce opponent of the UK's government response, Martin attracted huge public criticism for filming a video to his 40,000 employees in which he told them that they would not be paid and to "go and work in Tesco". A joint letter by employees condemned their boss, while several Wetherspoons branches were vandalised with calls for Martin to "pay (his) staff".
The retail bankruptcies are beginning to pile up, and J Crew is one of the latest casualties in the apparel industry; the preppy clothes maker has filed for bankruptcy protection and will liquidate its assets and transfer ownership to a group of investors. The company has been struggling in recent years, and the pandemic has proven the final catalyst to force J Crew to declare bankruptcy.
Neiman Marcus is another retailer to submit a Chapter 11 filing. The department store, which has also suffered a myriad of problems in recent years, is working with Pacific Investment Management (Pimco) and other lenders to halve its immense debt load in exchange for equity stakes. The writing was already on the wall before the public health crisis, with the company owing some $4.3bn in liabilities.
The retailpocalypse has finally come for JC Penney, too, the iconic department store that has been wilting for some years now. With stay-at-home orders and forced store closures, the company could not survive any longer and, after weeks of speculation, announced that it had filed a Chapter 11 petition to reorganise the business and enter into a restructuring agreement with lenders. It plans to close many of its stores and shift operations, with shares cratering by 29% upon the news being made public.
With the temporary collapse of the leisure and tourism industry – and since there has been pretty much nowhere to go – the car rental industry has also suffered greatly. As a result, Hertz has been forced to file for bankruptcy after 102 years of being in business, with the numbers making for grim reading: the company has accumulated nearly $19bn of debt, possessing just $1 billion in cash. Even with 12,000 layoffs and 4,000 employees on furlough, Hertz could only muster $2.5bn in savings.
It's not just financially that some businesses are struggling; even those who are unaffected have somehow managed to put their foot in it.
One prominent example is the beverage giant Pepsi, who, in one of the more head-scratching moments of this pandemic, co-launched a billboard with Walmart promoting a COVID-19 testing site. The advertisement features an image of the two companies' logos, with the tagline: "That's What I Like". It then directs visitors to a testing location 'near Walmart #908' in Orlando, Florida.
Pepsi is no stranger to marketing controversies, of course, but why or how this concept was approved is confusing to many people.
Unfortunately, it's impossible to begin to predict the long-lasting effects that COVID-19 will have on both small and large businesses; it is clear, though, that the impact will be felt for years to come. Even in the short term, much change is afoot; from movie theatres conducting temperature checks at entrances, to casinos disinfecting dice after every turn at the craps table, it is going to be hard for a lot of people to adjust to the societal changes.
As with all things, however, it's worth remembering that in chaos comes opportunity, giving plenty of entrepreneurs and companies the chance to enhance their business and benefit the public in some capacity.