Jan 27, 2020

Axios Markets

By Dion Rabouin
Dion Rabouin

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🎙 "The last time I was intimidated was when I was 6 years old in karate class. I was an orange belt and the instructor ordered me to fight a black belt who was a couple years older and a lot bigger. I was scared s---less. I mean, I was terrified and he kicked my ass."

"But then I realized he didn't kick my ass as bad as I thought he was going to and that there was nothing really to be afraid of. That was around the time I realized that intimidation didn't really exist if you're in the right frame of mind." - See who said it and why it matters at the bottom

1 big thing: Coronavirus fears start to weigh on global business
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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Worry about the Wuhan coronavirus is beginning to have a serious impact on business as new cases are discovered worldwide and China ramps up efforts to contain its spread.

What's happening: China extended its Lunar New Year holiday until Feb. 2 from Jan. 30, to help deal with the outbreak, as the death toll rose to 80 and the number of confirmed cases reached upwards of 2,700.

  • The number of cases outside of China also has risen, with the U.S., Japan, Hong Kong, Canada and South Korea confirming more over the weekend.

Threat level: Most Asian markets were closed for holidays, but those that were open reacted strongly overnight.

  • Japan's benchmark Nikkei index fell more than 2% as the yen touched its highest value against the dollar in close to three weeks.
  • Indonesia's JSX Composite dropped by nearly 2%.
  • Thailand's benchmark SET index slumped by as much as 3%.
  • Crude oil prices slid again, with WTI and Brent both down by around 3%.

Plus, equities outside of the Pacific also suffered. The pan-European Stoxx 50 index, which tracks many of Europe's largest companies, fell by more than 2%, Russia's RTS declined by 3% and S&P 500 futures were lower by around 1.5%.

State of play: Several Chinese cities remain on lockdown and the government has said it will ban all outgoing overseas group tours, while Hong Kong announced it would bar residents of Hubei province from entering.

But, but, but: The coronavirus outbreak so far still pales in comparison to the death toll from the much more common flu (influenza) that kills around half a million people each year.

The big picture: Wuhan, China, which essentially has been quarantined as ground zero for the virus, is an important hub for Chinese manufacturing, South China Morning Post notes.

  • Wuhan serves as the headquarters for major car and steel producers, has invested heavily in high tech, and acts as a transport and industrial hub for central China.
  • The Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that the virus could cut 0.5 to 1 percentage point from China's GDP this year, which many already are expecting to fall below 6%.
  • S&P Global warns that if the outbreak worsens it could take as much as 1.2 percentage points off China's economic growth.
Bonus: U.S. companies are not immune

A slate of American companies also could see near-term hits, as WSJ reports the outbreak is already affecting bottom lines, including closures of businesses inside China.

  • Walt Disney temporarily closed its Disneyland and Disneytown parks in Shanghai on Saturday.
  • McDonald's, which has 2,902 stores in China, said it has closed stores in Wuhan.
  • Starbucks said Saturday it would shut all stores in Hubei province, after earlier closing its Wuhan stores.
  • Delta, United and American Airlines are allowing passengers traveling between certain Chinese cities to change flights for free and are refunding tickets to Wuhan.
  • Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruises said they aren't allowing anyone who lives in or recently passed through Wuhan to board.
  • Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton said they are waiving some cancellation fees for reservations at hotels in China, and for guests from China traveling to hotels in other countries.
  • DuPont said it would donate equipment to agencies in China that are handling medical cases and would work to increase supply of its products to meet customer demand.
2. Catch up quick

Mattress maker Casper plans to price shares at between $17 and $19 for a midpoint valuation of $705 million, well below the $1.1 billion valuation where it last raised money. (Axios)

Europe’s main banking regulator is working to make it easier for its largest banks to merge as belief grows that scale is the key to reviving the struggling sector. (WSJ)

State attorneys general could be joining forces with U.S. Justice Department attorneys in their investigation of Google. (WSJ)

Iraqi security forces shot and killed a protester and three people were injured at the U.S. embassy, which may have been targeted by rockets, as civil unrest escalated. (Reuters)

3. Most companies expect little to no benefit from China deal

The phase one U.S.-China trade deal will have little to no impact on sales this year, according to 63% of companies who participated in the latest business conditions survey released today by the National Association for Business Economics.

  • Of those respondents who do expect an impact, views are equally split, with 15% anticipating a positive impact and 15% expecting a negative impact on their firms’ sales outlook.

Why it matters: President Trump has championed the agreement as a "sea change in international trade" and the deal's signing has helped power U.S. stock indexes to fresh record highs, but business owners and economists are less enthusiastic.

Flashback: Last week, a "Reuters poll of over 100 economists ... showed a significant pickup in the U.S. economy was not on the cards" as a result of the trade deal.

Between the lines: Just 8% of finance, insurance, and real estate businesses (FIRE) and 10% of those in transportation, utilities, information and communications (TUIC) expect a positive impact from the deal, while 30% of TUIC firms and 13% of FIRE firms see negative impacts.

  • Conversely, more than 41% of goods-producing companies and 50% of TUIC companies say tariffs and the trade war had a negative impact on sales.

The big picture: Overall, the survey found businesses were more bullish about economic growth over the coming 12 months than they were in NABE's last outlook in October.

  • Still, NABE Business Conditions Survey chair Megan Greene notes, “For the first time in a decade, there are as many respondents reporting decreases as increases in employment at their firms" over the last three months.

Of note: The Dec. 23–Jan. 8 survey includes responses of 97 NABE members.

4. The next phase in the streaming wars begins
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Reproduced from CivicScience; Chart: Axios Visuals

Netflix is the No. 1 streaming service in terms of how many people currently use it, capturing 64% of respondents in a recent survey of U.S. adults. But its future growth is much less certain, according to new data from CivicScience.

Why it matters: Since the start of the year, Netflix stock has caught fire again, outpacing Disney's stock by almost 13% year to date — up 7.9%, with Disney off by 4.6%.

  • Netflix beat market expectations for overall subscriber growth in Q4, but again fell short of expected growth in the United States.
5. Covenant loan quality continues to weaken
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Reproduced from Moody's; Chart: Axios Visuals

The quality of North American leveraged loan covenants rose back near its weakest level on record in the third quarter of 2019, according to ratings agency Moody's.

What it means: Moody's Loan Covenant Quality Indicator (LCQI) "tracks the degree of overall investor protection in the covenant packages of individual speculative-grade leveraged loans issued in the US and Canada," the company says.

  • Loan covenant quality is measured on a five-point scale, with 1 meaning the strongest investor protections and 5 meaning the weakest.

The intrigue: "The weakening protection is all the more striking because it continued even as volumes declined and spreads widened from Q2 to Q3," Moody's senior covenant officer Derek Gluckman said in a statement.

  • "Normally, covenant protections would improve in such market conditions. But the findings suggest that risks are increasing and that while investors are voicing caution, they are not effectively pushing back on permissive covenant terms."
Dion Rabouin

I got a chance to interview Kobe Bryant (sort of) in 2013 when I was working for the Atlanta Daily World. It was after the game in which he came down on Dahntay Jones' foot and sprained his left ankle. Kobe was pissed and he wouldn't take any questions from anyone except the traveling Lakers reporter who kept asking him about that particular play.

  • It was telling because what he seemed most upset about wasn't that he had been injured, but that the injury would rob him of time — time on the court, practice time, time he could've spent winning games.
  • He always seemed aware that time was fleeting. It was why he said he changed his number from 8 to 24, because there were 24 hours in a day and you had to get the most out of all of them.

After taking three or four questions from the Lakers guy, he just got up, put his arm around his wife and walked out of the locker room, as if making his point about time.

  • He tweeted furiously that night about all the rehab he was doing, staying up watching movies while he worked to get back on the basketball court.
  • I think that's why he loved basketball so much: It wasn't so much the game itself, it was that he wanted to be great and he knew basketball was his best opportunity to do that. So he gave it everything he had.

RIP Kobe. He was so much more than a basketball player.