When you're in the world of finance, you quickly learn that there are often two sets of numbers: the published ones, and the real ones.
Let me give an example, that I have seen repeated many times. We've all known the successful man about town. The one who drives the most expensive car, lives in the biggest house, and entertains lavishly.Very often these successful people have developed a financial plan that is solid and build on a rock.
But occasionally we run into people who live a high profile life style, but it is built on debt, not income. While it may appear that they are swimming in cash, their income statement, the “other numbers” paint a very different picture.
That's why the investment community learns to read the financials. We flip to the back of the annual report, and look at the income statement and balance sheet to tell us how a company, for instance, is really operating.
Ignore the glossy pictures, and look at the numbers.
With that mindset, we come to the outbreak of the Coronavirus in China, with a very different perspective.We try to look past the wild speculation that we see on the internet and much of the main stream press.
Just as we look beyond the official proclamations of the Chinese Authorities.
Because those sources may not have the information and/or they may have an agenda, that will slant the information that they provide.
To me, the best current information on the Coronavirus, is the actions of the companies and businesses in China.
Of course, I'm concerned about the mounting death toll from this disease. And Yes I'm concerned about its ability to spread throughout the China, and beyond.
But as an investor and analyst, I am also focused on how this developing tragedy in China will affect the global economy.
So lets put our investor hat on for a moment, and see if we can see some of the economic trends of the Coronavirus.
But before we begin, we have to recognize, that there are a lot of things that we don't currently know about the deadly disease. We don't know, for instance just what the incubation period it is. Or exactly how it can be transmitted. Or even how lethal it is.The scientists are still working out those numbers.
And so we have to deal with secondary sources. Sources who are making decisions based on that incomplete data.And the best source for the economic impact of this epidemic, are the corporations and business that are having to deal with it. The “boots on the ground,” if you will. Those companies operating in China.
Now, the disease was first disclosed just before the Chinese New Year's Eve Holiday. This has allowed companies to extend their normal holiday closings, so that their workers can remain at home.
This gave Chinese business a break, and extra week to sort out whether it was safe to resume operations. Safe, in other words, for workers to come back to work, and be in close contact with one another.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal Article, there are currently about 2/3rds of Chinese businesses that are shut down for the extended holiday.
Think of that, in the words of the Journal, 2/3rd of China's economy is currently idle. That's remarkable.
And I can't remember any time in recent history that an economy as large as China's has shuttered that much of its economy at one time.
The ramifications from this move alone, will prove to be profound.
But, I fear, that the impact of all this does not stop there.
By the end of next week, industry and commerce in China, is going to have to make a decision on what to do the following week. And week by week we will move forward with this disease.
Now to assume that businesses will be opening the third week in February, assumes, I believe, that management sees either a reduction in the threat (its less deadly that assumed) or a reduction in the rate of infection.
We can hope and pray that's the case.
But I think those are long odds.
And that the chances are that these plant closings are likely to last longer than projected. And have a much large impact than projected.
And so you might ask, just which plants are closing.And here the list, unfortunately just keeps growing. Heading the list is the duo of Foxcomm Apple, closing all plants and stores. Most if not all of the big pharmaceutical companies plants are closed. The airline makers Airbus and Boeing, both closed. Automakers Hyundai, Ford, Honda and Tesla all closed. The list goes on an on.
In fact its a sorter list of which companies remain open currently. And the only company that I could find that was continuing operations is Huawei, the controversial maker of those 5G cell phones, and 5G backbone systems.
So as investors, what are we to conclude?
First we need to acknowledge the human suffering and great price that the Chinese people are currently paying.
But the economic cost of all this, is likely to be far greater that we are currently recognizing. Even if this event is not the health tragedy that it looks like. Even if the disease is not as deadly as the worst assumptions.
Chinese business and government is currently operating as if it is a deadly threat. And the mere actions, in closing plants and shutting down stores, will have a dramatic impact on the Chinese and World Economies.
As investors, the plant and business closings are the numbers we have to watch.