The news that a new form of coronavirus had been identified in the major Chinese city of Wuhan was enough to send Asian stock markets into retreat on Monday (20 January) while in Europe, luxury-goods makers with Chinese order books also took a hit.
Despite the start of the Chinese New Year celebrations, which results in the largest human migration on Earth as millions return home to their families or travel abroad, stock markets were quick to move on, apparently due to China’s speedy response, which included a nationwide screening program.
Now wash your hands…
Even so, media outlets reported that China had quickly sold out of sanitising hand wash and face masks while British experts suggested that as many as 1,700 people – about three times current Chinese estimates – could be carrying the virus that’s spread mainly through coughs and sneezes.
By Tuesday, Hong Kong had reported its first case and, a day later, a host of other countries including the US, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand had all reported similar outbreaks.
According to local reports, the outbreak, which has now claimed 25 lives, originated in a seafood market that also (illegally) trades in live wild animals, suggesting that the virus had jumped across from animal hosts. The new virus, christened ‘2019-nCoV’, has triggered memories of the SARS crisis in 2002, which infected more than 8,000 people and subsequently killed almost 800 people across Asia and elsewhere.
On Wednesday, the UK’s Department of Health announced “enhanced monitoring” for all flights arriving from China while the World Health Organization (WHO) was still debating whether to declare an international public health emergency.
This week Sainsbury’s began a management clear out with the announced retirement of Mike Coupe, its CEO of six years.
Coupe has been under pressure since his proposed £12bn merger with Asda was blocked by competition authorities in the UK last year. His resignation comes less than 24 hours after Sainsbury’s revealed that it was wielding the axe once more by targeting hundreds of management roles in its latest re-shuffle since taking over Argos in 2016.
Coupe spent 15 years at the ‘big four’ grocer; he led its £1.4bn acquisition of Argos and Habitat, its purchase of Nectar and the sale of Sainsbury’s pharmacy business. He also invested heavily in convenience stores and online capabilities, the latter of which now accounts for c20% of Sainsbury’s sales. Coupe’s departure follows that of Argos CEO John Rogers who left in October last year.
Shares in Boeing were temporarily suspended on Tuesday (21 January) after they dropped almost 6% on reports that its fleet of 737 Max planes would stay grounded for longer than planned.
Boeing confirmed it estimates the planes will start flying again from “mid-2020”, which is much later than the January date it had mooted in November. The company claimed the new date was driven by its “experience of the certification process” by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), even though furore still surrounds its self-certification of key components.
The company was dealt a further blow
by news that rival Airbus is to add a new assembly line at its base in France, scheduled to open in mid-2022, to cope with increasing demand for its A321 family of planes and, in particular, the A321neo.
Streaming giant Netflix ended 2019 on a strong note with increased subscribers and revenue, but acknowledged it’s feeling the squeeze from rival streaming services run by Apple and Disney.
The fourth quarter results included a 31% increase in revenue year-on-year, which sent shares more than 2% higher in after-hours trading. But while it revealed 8.8 million new subscribers globally, North America only accounted for 550,000 of these – below analyst estimates – as it cited recent price changes and “US competitive launches”.
Its outlook for the first quarter of 2020 is more cautious, forecasting just 7 million new global subscribers, although it highlighted upcoming releases including Altered Carbon that will follow a successful Q4 content slate such as the third series of The Crown and the launch of The Witcher.
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