The coronavirus outbreak has claimed more than 560 lives, brought entire industries to their knees, and pushed Australia to the brink of recession.
But for some companies it has been a cash cow.
In an attempt to boost their natural defences, fearful Chinese consumers have rushed out to buy vitamins from Swisse and Blackmores.
Both firms have reported increased sales of immunity products in China over the past couple of weeks, with a Swisse spokesman telling the AFR Vitamin C was in particularly high demand.
“Consumers are really paying attention to their health and wellbeing,” she said.
“There’s certainly [a] much bigger focus on that.”
The company conceded, however, that the travel ban imposed on foreign nationals coming from mainland China has hit its “suitcase trade” – meaning Chinese tourists are no longer stocking up on large volumes of vitamins and supplements when they visit.
Blackmores shares were nonetheless 10 per cent higher on Thursday afternoon than on January 6. (A company spokesperson told The New Daily she couldn’t reveal exact sales figures as the company was due to announce its half-year earnings on February 25.)
And other companies have also profited from the outbreak.
Winners and losers
Infection fears prompted a run on hand sanitiser and P2 face masks in Australia, with stores across Melbourne’s CBD selling out last month.
Australian biotech giant CSL saw its share price lift 1.6 per cent after announcing it would join the fight against the virus.
And the ASX climbed to a two-week high in response to new economic stimulus announced by China.
In addition to pumping $100 billion into the banking system, China will reportedly eliminate fees, reduce value-added taxes and offer favourable loans to businesses fighting the virus.
On Thursday, it also announced lower tariff rates on $US75 billion ($111 billion) worth of US imports would kick in on February 14.
This latest development kept the ASX surging until the end of trading.
But it will bring little comfort to Australian lobster sellers who have seen exports fall to practically zero following China’s ban on live animal imports.
And it won’t help airlines or struggling tourism operators, either.
China accounts for more than a third (38 per cent) of Australia’s goods exports and contributes $400 million to its tourism sector every month.
But the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus wasn’t enough for Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe to lower his previous forecast of 2.75 per cent annual growth this year.
“It is important that we don’t catastrophise here,” he said.
Meanwhile, ANZ economists believe the outbreak will see Australia’s economy contract over the March quarter for the first time since 2011.
And Westpac said on Thursday the virus would knock 0.2 per cent off Australia’s annual GDP, or roughly $4 billion.
“As a starting point, we assume that intense disruptions to travel between Australia and China will last in the order of 1½ months – with the risk of a more protracted interruption,” Westpac notes.
“The Prime Minister of Australia announced on February 2 a halt to inbound arrivals from mainland China for non-residents.
“This will impact inbound, as well as outbound, tourism and education. Trade in goods, inbound and outbound, will also be disrupted.”