Who’s profiting most from the coronavirus outbreak?
- The novel coronavirus has so far infected more than 110,000 people and killed nearly 4,000.
- "Stay-at-home" companies — like Netflix and Amazon — seem to be uniquely poised to weather the outbreak.
- Media companies also appear to be profiting from surges in coronavirus-related traffic.
The novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, has infected 110,000 people and killed 4,000 across six continents. But the virus is also wreaking economic havoc. Stock markets have plummeted in the wake of the outbreak, with oil stocks leading the decline this week, and some analysts are saying that the virus’ spread could push the economy into a recession.
Some companies have proven resistant to the outbreak. This includes sellers of products like N95 respirators, medical face-masks (which don’t fully protect people from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and sanitization products, like Clorox. Companies that offer “stay-at-home” products and services are also benefiting from the outbreak, or at least not taking as big of a hit. These include companies like Netflix, Amazon, Zynga, Facebook and Peloton, to name a few.
The investment firm MKM Partners listed those companies and others on its “Stay at Home Index” of stocks it predicts will fare well as the outbreak plays out.
“We tried to identify what products/services/companies would potentially benefit in a world of quarantined individuals. What would people do if stuck inside all day?” said JC O’Hara, chief market technician at MKM Partners, in a recent report. “Rather than attempting to forecast how much lower these stocks may go, we decided to explore which stocks may hold up better.”
Samuel Corum / Stringer
Amazon, in particular, is a complicated case. It’s reasonable to assume that more people will be staying home and ordering products online, but it’s unclear whether the e-commerce giant will be able to control the integrity of its supply chain. As the outbreak has prompted some factories in China to slow or close, Amazon has been stocking up on popular Chinese exported goods, in some cases ordering twice as much as usual, according to a New York Times report.
Besides entertainment and consumer goods companies, digital media companies also seem to be profiting in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Data compiled by the GDELT Project compared the amount of online searches for coronavirus with the amount of mentions the outbreak received on the websites of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. The results showed that both measures increased sharply in late January, when the first case of coronavirus hit the U.S., and again in late February as the outbreak intensified.
There’s currently a debate over how the wall-to-wall media coverage of coronavirus might be fueling irrational panic, but it might be social media that’s most fueling the panic — while also revealing some especially malicious and opportunistic attempts to profit from the chaos.
The Washington Post recently reported that the State Department identified more than 2 million tweets containing misinformation and conspiracy theories about the outbreak, and that many of those tweets appeared to be “inauthentic and coordinated activity.” The goals of these campaigns aren’t exactly clear.
Billy H.C. Kwok / Stringer
The cybersecurity firm Check Point Software recently issued a report detailing how scammers set up the website vaccinecovid-19.com, which purported to sell “the best and fastest test for Coronavirus detection at the fantastic price of 19,000 Russian rubles (about US$300).”
“…cyber-criminals are exploiting interest in the global epidemic to spread malicious activity, with several spam campaigns relating to the outbreak of the virus,” the firm wrote.
Check Point Software also noted how people in Japan had received emails that appeared to contain official information on the spread of coronavirus, sent from a Japanese disability welfare service provider. But when they opened the email attachment, they unwittingly downloaded a trojan virus.
Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
Still, this isn’t to suggest that online platforms are having a mostly negative effect during the outbreak.
“Social media presents a mixed bag,” Samuel Scarpino, a business professor of network science at Northeastern University College of Science, told Axios. “We know social media is promoting panic, and people are taking advantage of that by spreading misinformation, but it’s also helping to spread good, reliable information that empowers people to make the right decisions.”
Ultimately, the people who stand to profit most from the coronavirus outbreak will likely be investors who follow Warren Buffett’s famous bit of investing advice: “be greedy only when others are fearful.” Just beware that grifters may also heed this advice.