'Supply chain issues are starting to emerge': These are the Australian businesses most affected by the coronavirus outbreak

Jack Derwin
  • Coronavirus is disrupting supply chains, impacting Australian businesses and leading to some shortages.
  • From supermarket Coles to software company WiseTech, companies are grappling with short-term disruptions, unsure of when they might be resolved.
  • As more cases are confirmed overseas, and cities in Italy are locked down, further disruptions can be expected, according to AMP Capital portfolio manager Dermot Ryan.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The coronavirus is the business shock no one saw coming.

Since its outbreak from Wuhan in China's Hubei province, the virus has spread across China and around the world, popping up in Australia, the US, South Korea, Italy, Iran, Iraq and elsewhere. With more than 77,000 confirmed cases and upwards of 2,500 deaths, it's difficult to quantify just how far it may spread. The hit to businesses and their customers, however, is already being felt, according to supply chain software company Unleashed.

"Some of our customers have found they can't get a hold of their suppliers if [their goods] are coming out of China. In some instances, they've found they can get some things delivered but not the whole set of goods they originally ordered," Unleashed Australia manager Danielle Dadello told Business Insider Australia. "Japan, South Korea now look like they might be put underneath restrictions over the next month, so disruption could increase."

Twelve Italian towns and cities have already been locked down after new cases of coronavirus were discovered there. Closer to home, Dadello says she's already been in contact with some businesses in Australia and New Zealand that are suffering stock shortages.

"Businesses are unsure of whether they can get their goods or when they might be able to get them, or when some of these restrictions might pass," she said. "If they're not able to get it out of China, then the freight is going to reach a bit of a bottleneck and the prices might rise which could hurt businesses' bottom line and see prices rise."

It follows that the greater a company's exposure to China, the greater the risk the coronavirus poses to its bottom line. However, decades into the globalisation project, and given China's status as both the world's foremost manufacturer and one of its largest economies, its tendrils spread far and wide, making the coronavirus' impact more difficult to contain.

Tech companies which are notoriously dependent on Asian supply chains overseas, have struggled sourcing parts. Apple has warned the outbreak may cause a shortage of iPhones and delay the release of its new iPad Pro, with its stock falling 10% this week, alongside Microsoft. Closer to home, Australian tech company WiseTech saw its stock price plunge close to 37%, as Chinese manufacturing slowed.

Supermarket chain Coles has reported a shortage of hand sanitisers, stationary, electrical goods and clothing due to Chinese shutdowns.

"Supply chain issues are starting to emerge – these are manageable short-term for the next month or two, but may see component price inflation and availability issues spike if the outbreak continues unabated," AMP Capital portfolio manager Dermot Ryan said in a note issued to Business Insider Australia, adding he expected it to surpass the 2002 SARS outbreak.

"We expect a recovery may take longer with past forms of stimulus harder to deploy given population lockdowns. SARS is also not a relevant benchmark because it was less contagious, had a shorter incubation period and thus had a quick resolution, and thus we think the market so far has been complacent in pricing in adverse outcomes when it was clear early last week that this virus was out of China."

It's played out right across different markets and geographies, and while Ryan expects the coronavirus to pass, there's more pain ahead.

"We think the market is late on this outbreak which has been clearly spreading across borders for over a week, there may be another leg down for markets," he said. "We would be amazed if developed markets of Western Europe and North America aren’t preparing to contain localised outbreaks and will move quickly with lockdowns."

Further restrictions and lockdowns will likely only make more difficult the task of doing business and lead to further selling. The outbreak has already pushed a whole stock of cash-strapped Chinese companies to the brink as their operations flounder. Growth forecasts for this year are being downgraded across the board, and fear sends markets on a rollercoaster.

Beyond supply chain issues, the virus outbreak has played havoc on markets. The energy sector has been whacked by a sinking oil price. During the month of February alone, heavyweights Woodside Petroleum is down more than 12% and Santos over 8% as oil slips.

The outbreak has not been without its surprises however. Iron ore producers were expected to get smacked by sinking Chinese demand, but have in fact fared reasonably well as the spot price remains steady at around $90.

Treasury Wine Estates, which sells much of its wine to China, has been smashed since late January. Its stock price has fallen off a cliff, dropping by more than 37%, as it admits the Chinese aren't spending much time in bottle shops right now.

There are also clear economic risks posed to Australia's education and tourism sector, with their significant reliance on Chinese students and visitors. Those in-flows are now greatly reduced by virtue of a Chinese group travel ban, various international restrictions, and a growing proclivity to stay home rather than risk exposure.

Consequently, these groups are expected to spend far less on hotels, airlines, and travel agents. Sydney Airport stock has fallen around 10% since mid-January, as spending contracts, while Flight Centre and Webjet stock prices have both nosedived nearly 20%. Qantas has fallen 17%, as it and its budget airline Jetstar cancel a slew of flights to Asia, and suspend flights to Shanghai altogether.

Retail shopping giant Vicinity, which operates Chadstone in Melbourne and DFO Brisbane among other centres, alongside Scentre Group, owner of Westfield, are trading at their lowest points in years.

Gaming giants Crown and Star stock prices have been on the slide as it grapples with the prospect of less Chinese visitors gambling in their casinos and staying in their hotels. For Crown, it's been enough to shave a third off its VIP turnover.

With no one sure how long the coronavirus will last, or how long it will continue playing havoc, the list of businesses affected may only grow.