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Which Stocks Are Rising on Coronavirus Fears?

A trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Monday. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Monday was a terrible day for stocks all over the world, as investors sold equities due to fear of the economic disruption from the novel coronavirus, which is increasingly infecting people outside China. Here in the U.S., the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 1,000 points, or 3.5 percent, the biggest one-day percentage decline in two years. But some stocks bucked the trend — and a look at which stocks those were paints a bleak picture of what a coronavirus pandemic could mean for the global economy.

For example, Zoom Video Communications, the videoconferencing company, rose more than 3 percent on Monday. That makes some sense: If huge numbers of people start working from home to reduce the risk of virus exposure, and if physical conferences continue to get canceled, that will presumably lead to higher demand for videoconferencing. Zoom’s stock price is up more than 50 percent since the start of the year, giving the company a market capitalization of over $29 billion. For comparison, Fiat Chrysler is worth $24 billion.

If you look at components of the S&P 500 index of large companies, nearly every component fell on Monday. There were fewer than a dozen exceptions, which included Clorox, Campbell’s Soup, Dominion Energy, Gilead Sciences, Newport Mining, and Regeneron. The business stories here are clear: a wider epidemic would lead to less spending in many parts of the economy, but people could be expected to buy more bleach and stock up on canned soup. Infectious disease-focused pharmaceutical companies like Gilead and Regeneron may develop products that are important in responding to the epidemic, and increased recognition of the danger of pandemics may lead broadly to more spending on infectious disease pharmaceuticals in the long run.

As for Dominion Energy and Newport Mining, these stocks tell stories about how crises affect asset prices. Gold prices are up, as often happens when investors fear a crisis; that’s good for Newport, which mines gold. As for Dominion, its rising stock price has to do with bond yields, which have fallen precipitously as investors expect that a more severe epidemic will hurt global economic growth and will lead central banks to cut interest rates. Because utility stocks pay out reliable dividends, they are in a way an alternative to bonds for investors, and so they tend to do well when bond yields fall.

This post is not about silver linings. These are exceptions that reinforce Monday’s message: The markets have now decided Coronavirus is likely to have a more significant and negative effect on the economy than was previously anticipated.

Which Stocks Are Rising on Coronavirus Fears?