Coronavirus is spreading fast—in company earnings calls

Buy the dip.
Buy the dip.
Image: ReutersS/Athit Perawongmetha
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There are still more questions than answers as Covid-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus, spreads. That’s put a major dent in stock markets around the world as investors head for the relative safety of bonds. Oxford Economics forecasts that the virus could knock as much as $1.1 trillion off equity markets this year, depending on the severity of the impact.

That uncertainty is illustrated in corporate filings and earnings calls, as analysts and executives try to calculate the impact of the epidemic on supply chains, the global economy, and things like commodity prices. Many execs say it’s still too early to assess the effects of the coronavirus’s spread, but some are beginning to dial back expectations, according to a Quartz review of calls and transcripts since Dec. 1, 2019 on financial research platform Sentieo.

Tech companies have been among the hardest hit in the stock market in recent days. Firms like Apple and HP, the multinational maker of laptops and printers, are sensitive to supply chain disruptions and have led declines over the past five days. Others whose core business is hardware component production are already warning of a decline in sales. Chipmaker Infinera said yesterday that it had baked in a $15 million hit to revenue from coronavirus in the first quarter.

Steven Fieler, CFO of HP, on Feb. 24:

In Q2, we expect a negative impact to our top line, bottom line, and free cash flow, although we view the impact as temporary with limited impact to our second half. In total, net of mitigations, we have factored in an $0.08 EPS impact into our Q2 guidance. We are also expecting to have a significant impact to free cash flow in Q2, with negative impacts to working capital due to delayed production and manufacturing timing and back-end loaded revenue linearity. Again, this should be temporary and not materially impact the full year.

Christine Gorjanc, CFO of wireless security camera maker Arlo Technologies, on Feb. 24:

Coronavirus is impacting our business on the supply side as our vendors do not have sufficient quantities of the required components to fulfill our demand because the component factories are operating at considerably reduced output. Additionally, in the second quarter, we have new product introductions planned that we believe will be impacted by the component shortages, as well as delayed delivery of some of the manufacturing equipment from China.

To take this into account, we have built in an impact of between 5% and 10% to our original revenue expectations for the first quarter and are expecting an impact to be between 20% and 25% for the second quarter.

Paul Oldham, CFO of semiconductor supplier Advanced Energy Industries, on Feb. 18:

Due to the uncertainty created by the novel coronavirus outbreak, we are providing a wider guidance range based on our team’s current assessment of our supply chain, product delivery, and production planning. In the near term, we expect to see some increased costs for expedite fees, transportation, and factory utilization as we actively work with our suppliers and customers to mitigate the challenge and fulfill our increasing backlog.

Energy company stocks can fluctuate based on expectations for economic growth—as an economy revs up, it tends to use more energy.

Anthony Petrello, president of oil and gas driller Nabors Industries, on Feb. 21:

Oil prices are reacting to fears of reduced economic growth in crude oil demand in China and elsewhere. These fears have been triggered by the recent coronavirus outbreak in China. The impact to global oil demand is uncertain, though reports estimate consumption in China has declined by as much as 3 million barrels per day.

Consumer discretionary companies can tumble when people are worried about their jobs and put off making purchases that aren’t vital. Food and hospitality companies with operations in China are also impacted amid worker shortages and as consumers stay home.

Jesse Timmermans, CFO of e-commerce fashion firm Revolve Group, on Feb. 25:

Our expectations factor in an estimated 1- to 3-point negative impact to net sales growth as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, with the expected negative impacts focused on the first and second quarters. The negative impact is due primarily to supply constraints on our own brand manufacturers as well as our third-party brands that’s sourced from China. We are also experiencing a negative impact on consumer demand in the Greater China region in our REVOLVE segment, but this is a much smaller impact given the relative sales mix from this region. The situation remains fluid and uncertain, so our estimate of the negative impact from the coronavirus outbreak is based on our best information as of today and is subject to change.

Michael Stornant, CFO of footwear manufacturer Wolverine Worldwide, on Feb. 25:

While the prospects for growth in 2020 are very promising, our outlook is tempered by first half headwinds from the coronavirus situation and some continued softness in the US wholesale channel. We expect 2020 reported revenue to be in the range of $2.29 billion to $2.34 billion, including $30 million of negative first half impact from the coronavirus and $10 million in negative impact from foreign currency.

Financial firms are closely linked to the state of the economy and changes in interest rates. Their stocks will be buffeted as quarantines disrupt their customers’ businesses through supply chains and worker staffing, forcing them to seek credit and potentially delay repayments.

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan, at investor day on Feb. 25:

It’s very hard to tell you. So I don’t want to guess. Obviously, we hope it’s contained. It’s a human casualty. I mean, you do feel terrible for it. The only question is, when you have South Korea and in Japan now with these rapidly increasing curves, how bad is it? How do they get there? They’ve been talking this morning about they don’t know who patient No. 1 was in Italy. And did that come from—I had this nightmare that somehow in Davos, all of us who went there, got it. And then we all left and spread it. The only good news from that is it might have just killed the elite but—so I just don’t know. Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. I’m not sure if it helps to guess.

Industrial companies have so far taken a lighter hit in financial markets, but coronavirus has cropped up the most on their calls of any sector, per Quartz’s analysis.

Joel Wine, CFO of transportation services company Matson, Inc., on Feb. 25:

We expect COVID-19 to negatively impact a number of our businesses, and we estimate the financial impact to operating income and EBITDA to be approximately $15 million.

Sy Feng Chong, CEO of engineering group Singapore Technologies Engineering, on Feb. 24:

Around half of the COVID-19 impact will be felt at our aerospace sector. Contributing factors include customer demand reduction, supply chain, and workforce redistribution. For example, if airlines continue to scale back the flight schedule, it will affect our aerospace MRO business as more airlines—airline customers adjust or delay maintenance cycle.

Not every company is losing value because of the virus. Shares of Zoom, the video-conferencing platform, are up more than 50% so far this year, on what appears to partly be virus-induced demand for its services. “Almost everybody is calling us, given the coronavirus,” Zoom CEO Eric Yuan told CNBC earlier this month. “Our usage is very, very high since the last month, the last week. Almost every day, that’s a record usage.”

But for every Zoom that’s apparently profiting, many more companies will take at least a short-term hit. These discussions between analysts and execs show just how broadly coronavirus has already touched the global economy, and the depth of the uncertainty over how long its effects will linger. One thing’s for sure: On corporate conference calls, coronavirus will keep spreading.