|Bid||53.89 x 900|
|Ask||55.74 x 900|
|Day's Range||55.10 - 56.10|
|52 Week Range||44.06 - 64.84|
|Beta (5Y Monthly)||0.36|
|PE Ratio (TTM)||22.04|
|Forward Dividend & Yield||1.78 (3.25%)|
|Ex-Dividend Date||May 14, 2020|
|1y Target Est||62.00|
Companies say that a return to workspaces will be slow and that they need to be sensitive to employees’ needs and concerns.
In partnership with Unilever’s United for America initiative, The North Texas Food Bank (NTFB), will be distributing kitted food boxes through a low-touch distribution model on May 21, 2020. Distribution will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The summer travel season is a big revenue generator for U.S. airlines but the coronavirus threatens the carriers and risk assessment firm RapidRatings warns American Airlines is the most at risk of going bankrupt.
As part of its United for America initiative, Unilever is hosting its first annual Day of Service on May 21. The company will donate the equivalent of one day’s worth of the products manufactured at its U.S. factories to Feeding America and Direct Relief, employees will spend time virtually volunteering, and a network of 70 partners will join in relief efforts to support their communities.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- With first-quarter earnings mostly in the books, investors have now gotten their first detailed glimpse of how the coronavirus pandemic has affected profits in corporate America. To no one’s surprise, the results as a whole weren’t good: Earnings fell about 14% from a year earlier for members of the S&P 500 Index, according to DataTrek Research. Wall Street analysts expect things to get worse before they get better, with earnings forecast to plunge about 41% in the second quarter, decline 24% in the third quarter and drop 11% in the final three months of the year. Add them up and Wall Street forecasts a 20% tumble for the year to $127 a share. Coming into 2020, the consensus was that members of the S&P 500 would produce earnings of about $175 a share. But that’s the mile-high view. For a real sense of the challenges facing the economy, it helps to get as granular as possible. To that end, we’ve asked those Bloomberg Opinion columnists that focus on business and finance to provide their thoughts on the quarter that snapped the longest U.S. economic expansion in history, revealing the winners and losers, highlighting interesting tidbits and musing about what may lie ahead.Bankers are the good guys? The message from the largest U.S. banks as they released their earnings in mid-April, just as the pandemic was escalating across America? We are well-capitalized, made a lot of money from trading in extremely volatile markets, and have the capacity to help our clients get through the crisis. Unlike the financial crisis just over a decade ago, big banks have a chance to be the good guys now, processing U.S. Small Business Administration loans and allowing individuals and families to delay payments on credit cards, auto loans and mortgages in certain cases. Yet banks have been among the biggest laggards across U.S. stock markets. The KBW Bank Index has fallen about 42% this year, compared with just 12% for the S&P 500, suggesting the economic recovery might be slower and more punishing than the broader markets for equities may be signaling. —Brian ChappattaCable conundrums, streaming dreams. The absence of lucrative sports programming and muted advertiser demand has forced traditional cable-network operators to make an even bigger push into the rocky terrain of streaming, where revenue is entirely dependent on must-see content continuously propelling subscriptions. AT&T Inc. said total ad sales fell 13%, while Walt Disney Co. said ESPN alone suffered an 8% drop. Meanwhile, almost 16 million people signed up for Netflix and about 2 million canceled cable TV. —Tara LachapelleGorging on comfort food. As panic-ridden consumers stock up on essentials, Big Food brands of yesteryear, from Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes to Kraft macaroni and cheese, that had been struggling to find their place in a new health-conscious society suddenly had a moment. This explains the resurgence of companies such as General Mills Inc., whose brands include Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and Totino’s pizza rolls. Its U.S. retail sales surged 45% in March and 32% in April. The question: Is this only a moment? We’re also noticing some quirky consumer habits. Unilever NV said we are using less deodorant, skin care and shampoo, as much of this use is associated with work and socializing. Henkel AG enjoyed strong demand for home hair coloring. If the recession is a long one, expect these habits to continue. —Tara Lachapelle and Andrea FelstedAmazon isn’t alone. E-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc.’s sales increased 26% in the quarter, and the company forecast up to 28% growth for its April-through-June quarter as nationwide lockdowns sparked a surge in online shopping. But overwhelming demand and shortages are giving its rivals opportunities as consumers increasingly shop elsewhere. It's showing up in the latest metrics from Shopify Inc.'s merchants, as well as Wayfair Inc., Best Buy Co., Target Corp. and Costco Wholesale Corp. — all pointing to much faster online sales growth rates than the tech giant. —Tae KimBig Tech divergence. Shares of Facebook Inc. and Google parent Alphabet Inc. rose post-earnings following better-than-feared commentary on April digital ad market trends. Even so, Facebook cautioned the future economic recovery may be worse than expected. And Google said not to extrapolate the stabilization that seemed to occur in April. Both internet ad giants may face business pressures going forward if companies cut their marketing budgets in coming quarters. In contrast, Amazon and Netflix are thriving as consumers increasingly shift spending to e-commerce and watch more streaming video content. Finally, Apple Inc. uncharacteristically failed to give sales guidance for its current quarter for the first time since 2003, signaling the lack of visibility it has for iPhone demand. —Tae KimCovid-time tech winners. Best-of-breed cloud software makers are surging as companies accelerate the spending shift away from traditional on-premise equipment to the cloud's more scalable and cost-efficient offerings. Some of the biggest earnings winners included Datadog Inc., Okta Inc. and Twilio Inc. Video-game stocks are one of the hottest-performing subsectors this year as it has become a key in-home entertainment choice under shelter-in-place orders. Both Activision Blizzard Inc. and Electronic Arts Inc. posted strong results and confirmed accelerating sales for its offerings in April. Investors also bid up Zoom Video Communications and Slack shares as the two companies benefited from the workforce-collaboration software trend and revealed strong accelerating business metrics. —Tae KimPharma unfazed, for now. As a wide variety of industries panicked and cut profit targets, large drugmakers broadly reaffirmed guidance in the first quarter. Merck & Co., which makes many hospital- and physician-administered treatments, was the only big firm to slash its drug sales forecast seriously. Making medicine is a durable business, even in a pandemic. However, if a strong second-half economic recovery doesn't materialize, more companies may follow Merck as patients make the tough decision to stay home instead of venturing out and seeking treatments. —Max NisenCover me. Large health insurers were also relatively sanguine, despite a pandemic that would seemingly spark increased claims. They believe that the dive in expensive elective surgeries will balance out adverse effects. That doesn't mean there won't be change. UnitedHealth Group Inc. announced this month that it plans to re-enter Obamacare's insurance markets after mostly exiting four years ago. A 14% unemployment rate will do that. Watch for imitators. —Max NisenCashing in on Covid cures? During Gilead Sciences Inc.’s first-quarter earnings call, an analyst asked CEO Daniel O'Day if investors should expect the sort of attractive returns from newly confirmed Covid treatment remdesivir that the company produces for other drugs. O'Day responded that "there's been no other time like this in the history of the planet" and that "we understand our responsibility." In other words, probably not. Gilead announced on Tuesday a temporary royalty-free license that will allow five generic drugmakers to make a presumably cheaper version for more than 100 low-income nations. Other companies will face pressure to follow its example and price moderately in developed countries, which calls into question the soaring valuations for pandemic-focused drugmakers. —Max NisenGoing local. Still spending. Coronavirus shutdowns have snarled industrial-supply chains already facing strain from the U.S.-China trade war. While no one envisions an abandonment of China as a manufacturing hub, there are early signs of work being brought back to the U.S. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to mean much in terms of jobs, at least not for humans. Rockwell Automation Inc. said it's seen an uptick in interest from companies that might have previously manufactured products out of Asia to take advantage of low wages but are now rethinking that economic calculus. When it comes to investment, discretionary spending on things like travel has been cut across the board at many manufacturers. Most CEOs and top executives have taken pay cuts. Buybacks are off the table but for a few brave souls, including Eaton Corp. But many manufacturers are continuing to fund projects they view as essential to their future growth. For United Parcel Service Inc., that means investments in automation that can help make e-commerce deliveries more profitable. For Caterpillar Inc., that's services work and expanding its product lineup. "I'm not planning on sacrificing the future just to cut back on capex," Honeywell International Inc. CEO Darius Adamczyk said on a recent earnings call. —Brooke SutherlandPink slips or paychecks? While aerospace manufacturers such as Boeing Co. and General Electric Co. have moved swiftly to announce large layoffs amid a collapse in the industry, other industrial companies have been more surgical, at least for now. Caterpillar CEO Jim Umpleby has said his company's efforts to hold headcount relatively flat even as revenue climbed the past few years means there's less slack in the system and the company doesn't have to be as ruthless on job cuts during the pandemic. Others, such as railroad Union Pacific Corp., are worried about having enough labor at the ready whenever a recovery does occur so prefer furloughs when possible. "We don't want to cut the talent so deep that when the recovery happens, we don't have the right people," said Greg Hayes, CEO of Raytheon Technologies Corp., whose robust balance sheet and defense business give it more flexibility to weather the commercial aerospace downturn. Companies can still save costs without cutting employees: Trash-hauler Waste Management Inc. is guaranteeing 40 hours a week of pay for full-time employees through the pandemic, but the redistribution of its workers has helped it reduce more costly overtime hours by half. —Brooke SutherlandStaying safe. Most manufacturers have kept their doors open through the pandemic because their work is considered essential. That has come at a cost: Trash-hauler Republic Services Inc. spent $3 million in the first quarter on actions to keep its employees safe, including providing them with protective gear and doing enhanced cleaning. To keep Emerson Electric Co.'s factories humming, Chief Operating Officer Steve Pelch had to rent aircraft to bring in crucial supplies and double the number of buses used to transport workers in Mexico so they can safely spread out, according to an interview with Bloomberg News's Thomas Black. Automated doors have been installed, as have hand-washing stations. Plexiglass partitions separate workers on the factory floor. Siemens AG digitally redesigned an Airbus SE factory that's been repurposed for ventilator manufacturing to ensure social distancing, and workers must pass through a sanitization tent to gain access. In what could be a key test for the reopening of other parts of the economy, automakers with large union workforces including General Motors Co. and Ford Motors Co. are bringing their factories back to life this week in preparation for a May 18 official restart. Ford said it will require face masks for anyone entering its facilities, as well as safety glasses with side or face shields for those employees whose jobs don't allow for social distancing. It's spacing out production shifts to allow more time for cleaning and requiring employees to complete daily health and temperature checks. —Brooke SutherlandOil, oil everywhere. At a primeval level, the oil business is all about sinking money into the ground. When the barrel gods are smiling, even more money comes back up. In 2020, it feels like the gods aren’t happy. Hence, earnings season for oil companies was odd. While exploration and production companies are always careful to talk up efficiency, what really gets the juices flowing are spending plans for new wells. Not this time. Parsley Energy Inc., which fracks in America’s oil heartland, the Permian basin, suspended drilling, declaring bluntly (and correctly) that right now, “the world does not need more of our product.” At the other end of the scale, Exxon Mobil Corp. also slashed spending this year to as little as — get ready for it — $23 billion! While Exxon recognizes the immediate impact of Covid-19, it doesn’t think “events like this change basic human nature or people's wants and desires.” The jury remains out on that notion. And in any case, the switch from budget boasting to public prudence offers a glimpse of what peak oil could mean for what’s ahead. Expect dissonance. —Liam DenningThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Beth Williams is a managing editor with Bloomberg Opinion. She has also worked at Bloomberg News as an editor and reporter covering M&A, markets, companies, finance and government.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Uber Technologies Inc. outlined new safety procedures at a virtual event on Wednesday, a move aimed to inspire more drivers and riders to feel comfortable getting in a shared car again.The rules will require drivers, passengers and food delivery couriers to wear face masks as cities begin to reopen across the U.S. After the Covid-19 pandemic began spreading rapidly more than two months ago in the U.S., Uber urged riders to stay home and shuttered its carpool service completely. Drivers were often conflicted about continuing to pick up the few remaining passengers or putting their health at risk.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended wearing face coverings in public since April 3 to prevent the spread of the virus. But masks have become a polarizing sign. Some people believe they aren’t necessary and that the economic effects of the lockdowns outweigh the health risks. President Donald Trump has long defended his decision to not wear a mask, helping to fuel an anti-mask movement across the U.S. that has spurred protests, fights and at least one fatal shooting.Uber will also ask drivers to submit a selfie showing them wearing a mask. Drivers who refuse the verification in the U.S., Canada, India and most of Europe and Latin America will not be able to go online beginning May 18.“We’ve designed this feature to adapt to changing public health guidance and regulations as the pandemic evolves,” Uber Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi said in a blog post. The mask policy will remain in effect through June and be reassessed based on local public health needs. The global pandemic has been taken a toll on Uber’s ride-hailing business, with rides down about 80% globally in April. As a result, Uber announced cost-cutting measures last week, including ending food delivery operations in seven countries and trimming 14% of its workforce. But Uber’s food delivery service, Uber Eats, has fared better as homebound people order more takeout. Uber has approached Grubhub Inc. about a takeover, according to people familiar with the situation, a move that could combine two of the largest food-delivery services in the U.S. The proposed deal is already facing resistance from officials, who said Uber has failed to set up adequate safety measures to mitigate the risk of infection for drivers.Under the new rules, riders will also need to confirm they’ve taken precautions, including wearing a mask and washing their hands, and must agree to sit in the back seat and open windows for ventilation. Uber is also reducing the maximum suggested number of passengers for an UberX ride to 3 from 4. Drivers will be able to cancel a trip without penalty if they don’t feel safe, including if the rider isn't wearing a face mask.Other efforts Uber is making to keep drivers and passengers safe include allocating $50 million to purchase supplies like masks, disinfectant sprays and wipes, hand sanitizer, and gloves. As of this week, Uber has obtained more than 23million masks for drivers and delivery people around the world, the company said. Uber also announced two new partnerships, with Clorox Co. and Unilever Plc, to provide disinfecting tips and hygiene kits for drivers and delivery people in some markets. For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Struggling e-commerce platform Jumia Technologies reported an almost 7 percent fall in first quarter revenue due to supply chain disruptions, particularly in China, but saw lower cash burn and signs that lockdowns were hastening a shift towards online shopping in Africa. Jumia was the first Africa-focused tech start-up to go public on the New York Stock Exchange and reached a market capitalisation of over $1.5 billion just days after it listed last April.
The international exposure of Unilever may be tempting for investors, but P&G; is better equipped to withstand today's coronavirus-related headwinds.
Ben & Jerry's won the dismissal on Thursday of a lawsuit by an environmental advocate who claimed the company deceived consumers by saying it used milk and cream from "happy cows" on "Caring Dairy" farms to make its premium ice cream. U.S. District Judge Christine Reiss rejected James Ehlers' claim in the proposed class action that Ben & Jerry's misleading marketing enabled it to burnish its socially conscious image and charge higher prices for its ice cream, even though more than half the milk and cream was mass-produced. Reiss said Ben & Jerry's "happy cows" claim was merely an opinion, and that Ehlers did not show that reasonable consumers would buy its ice cream solely because the company said on its website it used ingredients from "Caring Dairy" farms.
Coronavirus is probably the 1 concern in investors' minds right now. It should be. On February 27th we published an article with the title Recession is Imminent: We Need A Travel Ban NOW. We predicted that a US recession is imminent and US stocks will go down by at least 20% in the next 3-6 […]
Invests US$6 million in two companies in India and Indonesia that recycle local plastic waste into useful products Singapore, Singapore--(Newsfile Corp. - April 28, 2020) - Circulate Capital, the Singapore-based investment management company focused on advancing the circular economy, today announced that the Circulate Capital Ocean Fund (CCOF), the world's first investment fund dedicated to the ocean plastic crisis in South and Southeast Asia, has made its inaugural investments in two plastic recycling companies ...
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- In a locked down world, cat food is in, but deodorant is out. How consumers adapt to pandemic life is playing out in the contrasting performances of two big consumer goods companies: Nestle SA and Unilever.Nestle, which has been fine-tuning its focus on food, on Friday posted its highest rate of growth for almost five years, with a 4.3% increase in first-quarter sales excluding currency movements, acquisitions and disposals. That far outstripped the showing at Unilever, which didn’t manage any sales expansion in the first quarter despite demand for disinfectant soaring.Food is usually the sleepy cousin of faster-growing personal-care products, such as skin creams and shampoo. However, the Covid-19 crisis has turned this on its head.Nestle, which generated about 15% of its sales from pet care in 2019, has doubly benefited from an embrace of our furry friends in this unsettling time. Not only did people panic buy for their cats and dogs, but they’re pampering them more now that they’re spending more time with them. Pet food sales helped Nestle’s overall organic sales growth increase by more than 7% in both the Americas and Europe.By contrast, Americans and Europeans are spending less time worrying about their own appearance, be it tinkering with their hair, shaving or applying makeup and moisturizer. With nowhere to go, the change in behavior is so radical that, according to Unilever, a typical day stuck at home entails on average 11 fewer “personal care moments.”That’s a big problem for Unilever. The company generates 42% of sales from its beauty and personal-care brands, such as Dove moisturizers and Timotei shampoo. And it’s absent from some categories that have been performing well, such as hair dye for use at home.But this isn’t just the corporate equivalent of being in the right place at the right time.Nestle’s chief executive officer, Mark Schneider, has made some canny changes to the Swiss firm’s portfolio, which includes coffee, bottled water and frozen food. Of course, no one had a crystal ball, but those decisions now look prescient. The company sold a skin-health business that makes Botox, which looks very wise now that nobody can get to the beauty salon. It completed the sale of its U.S. ice cream business at the end of January, so it didn’t suffer as much Unilever from the decline in demand in this category. Nestle has really scored from its $7 billion deal two years ago for the right to sell Starbucks products outside of cafes. The pandemic has turned people into their own baristas forcing them to stock up on coffee at the supermarket. Schneider is continuing to reshape Nestle, with a strategic review of the Yinlu business that makes traditional Chinese porridge and peanut milk.Change at Unilever hasn’t been as dramatic. The Anglo-Dutch company has made small bolt-on acquisitions in what have been fast-growing categories such as plant-based meat and premium beauty products like Hourglass cosmetics. This is sensible given long-term trends, but these products are facing headwinds right now. For example, a large proportion of the company’s beauty offerings are sold through North American retailers such as Ulta Beauty Inc., which are currently closed.Now led by company veteran Alan Jope, Unilever has also been more reticent about big disposals. It sold its spreads business in 2017, and is reviewing its tea division, which includes brands such as PG Tips and Lipton.Investors certainly seem to be backing Schneider’s approach over that of Jope. On a price-to-earnings basis, Unilever is at its biggest discount to Nestle for more than a decade.How Unilever performs during the crisis should spur a rethink of the portfolio. The company is well placed in one sense with many of its brands in the mass-market segment. In the downturn that will inevitably follow the pandemic consumers will trade down. But some brands also look tired. Will a large number of people really turn to Brut aftershave and V05 shampoo or Toni&Guy when supermarkets and discount retailers do a good job in cheaper alternatives?Home workers using less deodorant isn’t just an issue for those sharing a lockdown space.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She previously worked at the Financial Times.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
British stocks nudged higher on Thursday, with data both from the U.K. and abroad showing the deterioration of the global economy due to the coronavirus shutdowns.
Unilever stock fell on Thursday as sales were flat in the first quarter despite stockpiling, and the consumer goods giant warned of “lasting changes” in consumer behavior.
European stocks paused on Thursday, as data revealed the coronavirus lockdowns are causing unprecedented pain to the Continent’s services sector.
"Things will get more difficult before they get better," Chief Executive Alan Jope said on a call, pointing specifically to the impact on ice cream sales and a food solutions business that caters to canteens, restaurants and cafes. Unilever, however, said it was positive that people would focus more on personal hygiene, driving sales of laundry detergents, hand sanitizers and soap-based products even after the pandemic subsides. Unilever also said it would prioritize development of less expensive value for money products as it expects economies across the world to enter into a period of slow growth.
As part of Unilever’s ‘United for America’ initiative, Hellmann’s today launched a Food Relief Fund that will provide $1 million to feed frontline workers and people in need in New York City, Hellmann’s birth place and the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic epicenter.
(Bloomberg) -- Shaking hands has a publicity problem -- so does walking through crowds, attending a concert and passing out high fives.Scenes like these are disappearing from advertisements as companies come to grips with public health orders to self isolate and limit the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Ads that were in the works have been shelved and campaigns have to be reworked on a short timeline. Travel and hospitality companies have gone quiet. Meanwhile, with so much of the world on lockdown, it’s not exactly easy to shoot new commercials.“You have to ask what meaning does your commercial have right now, given that everything has changed in the immediate realities of life,” said Mark Lund, chief executive officer of McCann Worldgroup U.K. “How do you avoid that tone deafness which might offend and alienate people?”The U.K. advertising regulator said it got 163 complaints about a KFC television ad in March which featured people licking their fingers. Complaints said it was irresponsibly encouraging unsanitary behavior, according to a spokesperson for the Advertising Standards Authority. When the agency contacted the fried-chicken fast food chain, whose longtime slogan is “Finger lickin’ good,” the company had already decided to pull the ads.Unilever Plc suspended its “Unstoppable” campaign for Domestos, including a video ad that said the toilet cleaner kills germs that are “hiding, breeding, infecting the weak.”Getting InventiveIn addition to new sensitivities around hygiene, advertisers are having to cope with limited resources to make new commercials as production crews and actors self-isolate.“World War II comes to advertising land. What can you make out of this empty washing-up-liquid bottle and a bit of sticky-back plastic?” said Emma de la Fosse, chief creative officer of Digitas Inc.’s U.K. business. “It’s about being inventive.”A cookie brand that Digitas works with had to pivot quickly from a campaign about going out to one about staying in and staying safe, she said. Agencies are getting creative with footage that’s already been shot, and they’re looking at user-generated content and social-media influencers, though the quality can be hit-and-miss, Fosse said.Lund said that McCann has done an ad for grocery store Aldi using existing footage and resurrecting an animated carrot from its Christmas campaign telling shoppers to “go easy” on the vegetables.As the lockdown drags on, advertisers will also have to make the decision about whether to make a bigger pivot on campaigns, such as commissioning more animation and using computer-generated imagery that can be produced by teams of graphic designers, art directors and 3D modelers working from home.“The likelihood is things will take a bit longer, but there is no creative compromise,” said Mark Benson, CEO of global creative ad studio Moving Picture Company. Brands are coming to the studio to complete ads that were already in production with special effects, he said. “For example, an auto spot where the car would have normally been shot by a specialist auto director -- it still can be, but the car will be built by animators in computer graphics instead of shot live-action on location.”New TechnologyAnimation and visual effects studios were already changing the way they work so teams can collaborate remotely, and shifting computing horsepower from office servers to the cloud. The shock of the coronavirus will hasten the move to new video production methods, said Neil Hatton, CEO of film and TV industry lobby group the UK Screen Alliance.“There are parallels with the Japanese tsunami, which accelerated a move from production delivered on tape to production on computer file as the tsunami wiped out the tape-manufacturing companies on the coast of Japan,” said Hatton.For an industry that prides itself on creativity, ingenuity is more important than ever. Advertisers may be facing a worse setback than the 10% retraction in marketing spending that followed the 2009 financial crisis, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Matthew Bloxham said. Ads typically cost companies the equivalent of about 11% or 12% of sales and are easy to reduce. The slump is going to spread quickly from the travel and leisure industry clients, who cut their spending immediately, to luxury goods, cars and clothes, he said.Read more: TV Industry Faces Billions in Lost Ads During Sports Hiatus“We know that it’s going to be quite a sharp kind of effect -- the question is how long that effect goes on for,” McCann’s Lund said. “We’re having conversations with our clients about what does the world look like on the other side and what does it mean for brands and how they exist in people’s lives.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Pandemics have always been fellow travelers of globalization. A third phenomenon stalks in their shadow: racism.That's worrying. The global threat of Covid-19 seems to be leading not to a unified global response, but to an American president who until Tuesday was describing it as a “Chinese virus” while officials in Beijing stirred up conspiracy theories on social media about a U.S. military origin for the disease. Already, stories are proliferating of people subject to abuse and attacks for “coughing while Asian,” or being turned away from businesses because of actual or presumed Chinese ethnicity.Sadly, there’s nothing new in this. As my colleague Pankaj Mishra has written, the current situation parallels events a century ago, when the first interconnected world economy unraveled into the chaos of World War I. It was disease, as much as war and revolution, that drove that collapse.The age of sail had imposed a natural restraint on both epidemics and migration. It took as long as a month to cross the Atlantic, meaning any infections had already burned themselves out by the time a port was reached. When typhus spread to North America among Irish emigrants fleeing the potato famine of the 1840s under sail, the onboard outbreaks were so notorious that the boats were nicknamed “coffin ships.”Steamships changed all that, opening up ocean transport by drastically lowering its cost and cutting the time needed for transatlantic crossings to less than a week. That helped spark the first era of mass migration as millions of Europeans left for the new world — but it also put the length of a transatlantic journey well within the period when diseases could spread unnoticed.Cholera, which had previously been confined to an endemic area around Bengal, spread among the officers and traders of the British Empire to inflict devastating epidemics on every continent. Smallpox pandemics played a crucial role in the Americas since Columbus’s day, enabling colonialism due to their devastating impacts on indigenous populations. Yellow fever crept up repeatedly from the Caribbean and central America to ravage the southern U.S. In 1889, the first modern influenza pandemic spread rapidly from Russia to North America.Since that era, immigration restrictions and public health measures have often gone hand-in-hand. It’s no coincidence that sites in New York Harbor synonymous with migration such as Ellis Island and Liberty Island started life as quarantine stations. “International mobility is central to the globalization of infectious and chronic diseases,” according to a 2007 bulletin from the World Health Organization. “The history of health and foreign policy reflects long-term links to migration issues.” As people confined to their homes will be well aware, limits on human movement and interaction are crucial to holding back outbreaks of disease. Racism, however, exploits a flaw in human reasoning quite as effectively as infections exploit flaws in our immune defenses. The central fallacy is to assume that if international travel helps spread disease, a perceived “foreign” group is most likely to be carriers. Viruses, though — unlike people — don’t much discriminate by race.(2)The Covid-19 outbreak in Italy is a case in point. Several commentators have claimed without evidence that the source across the north of the country was the large number of Chinese migrants working in Italy’s fashion sector. In fact, tracing the contacts of the infected and finding “patient zero” is a well-established practice in epidemics, and there’s no sign of any significant origins among garment workers. All the research to date suggests the key source was instead a 38-year-old Unilever Plc employee named Mattia from the town of Codogno.Despite the lack of evidence that ethnic groups are responsible for disease, the canard has been frequently been used to justify racist measures. One notorious 19th-century cartoon from Australia’s Bulletin magazine presented China as a malignant octopus attacking the country, two of whose arms were labeled “smallpox” and “typhoid.”It was a similar story in the U.S. Only about 1% of the mostly European immigrants coming to Ellis Island around the turn of the 20th century were rejected for medical reasons. By contrast, some 17% of the more Asian migrant population at San Francisco’s Angel Island was disbarred for sickness, owing in large part to more intrusive screening and vague disease categories applied to non-Europeans. Anti-Chinese measures like San Francisco’s Cubic Air Ordinance were justified on public health grounds as measures to combat “insanitary” overcrowding. For much of the past century, the relative absence of pandemics has put the alliance between racism and disease into remission. Vaccines, antibiotics, sewerage systems and a better understanding of hygiene have proved our most powerful tools for fighting disease. One of the more enduring threats of coronavirus may be the way it changes this calculus. With luck, the connections built up during this era of mass migration will keep xenophobia in check. Trump said Tuesday he would stop using the term “Chinese virus.” That’s a start. (1) Some diseases do appear to be prevalent at different rates among different ethnic groups, such as hepatitis C, although the mechanism for this isn't well understood. Many people with African ancestry are less likely to die from the malaria amoeba thanks to a side-effect of sickle-cell anemia, a blood condition.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.David Fickling is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering commodities, as well as industrial and consumer companies. He has been a reporter for Bloomberg News, Dow Jones, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and the Guardian.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Most people feel a little frustrated if a stock they own goes down in price. But sometimes broader market conditions...