Companies trim outlooks, travel and staff as virus spreads

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Travelers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport wear masks Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in SeaTac, Wash. Six of the 18 Western Washington residents with the coronavirus have died as health officials rush to test more suspected cases and communities brace for spread of the disease. All confirmed cases of the virus in Washington are in Snohomish and King counties. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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GROUNDED AIRPLANES: United Airlines will cut international and U.S. flying, freeze hiring and ask employees to volunteer for unpaid leave as it struggles with weak demand for travel because of the new virus outbreak. United said Wednesday it will reduce passenger-carrying capacity 20% on international routes and 10% to 12% in the U.S. United executives expect the reductions will carry into May. Beyond that, it depends what happens to bookings over the next few weeks. United’s CEO and president say they hope the moves are enough, but the nature of the outbreak requires the airline to be flexible in how it responds.

ALTERED EXPECTATIONS: General Electric Co. General Electric believes the viral outbreak could have a negative impact of about $300 million to $500 million on its first-quarter industrial free cash flow. Operating profit for the period could be hurt by about $200 million to $300 million. GE said that the expectations are incorporated into its full-year 2020 outlook. Major corporations like Apple, Microsoft and Visa have already cut expectations.

RATIONING: Kroger Co., the nation’s biggest independent grocer, is placing limits on the number of certain products that customers buy as its shelves are cleared by people doing heavy stocking in preparation for any spread of the virus. “Due to high demand and to support all customers, we will be limiting the number of sanitization, cold and flu related products to 5 each per order. Your order may be modified at time of pickup or delivery,” the company said on its website. Amazon is warning same-day grocery customers that delivery may be limited. Target and Walmart are scrambling to replenish shelves with basics like canned goods, toilet paper and other household essentials, but have yet to announce rationing.

TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS: The International Air Transport Association says that January had the slowest monthly year-over-year growth since April 2010, at the time of the volcanic ash cloud crisis in Europe that led to massive airspace closures and flight cancellations. “January was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the traffic impacts we are seeing owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, given that major travel restrictions in China did not begin until 23 January,” said Alexandre de Juniac, the group director general.

Delta will reduce its weekly flying schedule to Japan through April 30 and suspend summer seasonal service between Seattle and Osaka for 2020 in response to reduced demand due to COVID-19.

Amazon has asked its 800,000 employees worldwide to postpone non-essential travel. It is also conducting some job interviews on video conference calls instead of in its offices. Ford Motor Co. has banned all domestic and international travel, unless approved at the highest levels of the company.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra said Wednesday that all international travel by employees has been restricted.

NETWORKING IS NOT WORKING: Starbucks converted its big annual shareholders meeting in hometown Seattle to a virtual only event due to concerns about the virus. The meeting will still be held on March 18 as originally planned. The party-like event which attracted 4,000 shareholders last year was supposed to be held at a theater in downtown Seattle. A virus cluster has emerged in Washington state, however, with nine deaths reported.

The 40th Seafood Expo North America/Seafood Processing North America, scheduled for later this month in Boston, has been postponed. The largest such event in North America typically attracts about 20,000 people. Organizers cited concerns about safety and travel restrictions. The event takes place in Boston’s Seaport district.

The International Monetary Fund said its spring meetings in Washington, D.C., along with those of the World Bank, will now be “virtual” to limit the risk from traveling.

The Global Gaming Expo Asia scheduled for later this month in Macao has been pushed back to the end of July. More than 13,000 people attended last year’s expo.

General Motors asked employees who have traveled within the past 14 days to China, South Korea, Japan, Iran or Italy to skip this week’s high-profile roll out of the company’s new slate of electric vehicles, according to CEO Mary Barra.

F5 Networks Inc. postponed its analyst and investor event due to the virus outbreak. The company was scheduled to hold the event in New York this week. The cloud technology company, based in Seattle, also postponed its annual user conference scheduled for mid-March in Orlando, Florida.

CLOSE TO HOME: Amazon says one of its employees in Seattle has contracted the new coronavirus. “We’re supporting the affected employee who is in quarantine,” it said in a prepared statement. Amazon said earlier this week that two of its employees in Milan, Italy, have contracted the virus and are quarantined.

Aflac announced Wednesday that a temporary worker at its call center in Kobe, Japan is infected with the virus. The individual had attended an event in Osaka where multiple participants also contracted the virus. The company said it’s continuing to monitor the recovery of the infected individual, who is being instructed to refrain from coming into the office.

STAFF REDUCTIONS: Finnish national carrier Finnair is planning temporary layoffs between 14 days up to one month for its entire staff based in Finland due to the economic impact caused by coronavirus to the airline’s operations.

More than 6,000 Finnair employees will be affected.

The Finnish flag carrier, which has a total staff of nearly 7,000, has strongly focused on Europe to Asia flights from its Helsinki hub and has been forced to temporarily cancel flights to mainland China and other Asian destinations because of the coronavirus.

THE MACRO VIEW: The head of the 189-nation International Monetary Fund said Wednesday that the economic impact of the spreading coronavirus will be more serious than originally thought.

The IMF is now prepared to make rapid support available to low-income countries through a $50 billion emergency fund that the group maintains to help nations facing an economic crisis, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said.

“We unfortunately over the past week have seen a shift to a more adverse scenario for the global economy,” said Georgieva.

The IMF’s forecast in January that the global economy would rebound to growth of 3.3% this year, up from 2.9% last year, is no longer reliable.

“We know the disease is spreading quickly with over one-third of our membership affected directly,” Georgieva said. “This is no longer a regional issue. It is a global issue calling for a global response.”

SHORT SUPPLY: A U.N. agency estimated Wednesday that a shortage of industrial parts from China caused by the coronavirus outbreak has set off a “ripple effect” that caused exports from other countries around the world to drop by $47 billion last month.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development says that figures from Chinese businesses suggest an annualized 2% decline in output in China. That has led to shrinking supplies for automotive, chemicals, communications and other industries in many countries, in turn reducing their export capacity.

The agency says the preliminary figures show that industries outside of China that rely on components, parts and other inputs from the country aren’t able to export goods as much as they had before the virus erupted. The outbreak began in the city of Wuhan, shutting down factories and quarantining workers at home.

The drop in Chinese output results in a “ripple effect throughout the global economy” that rises “to the tune of a $50 billion fall in exports across the world,” said said Pamela Coke-Hamilton, director of the UNCTAD international trade and commodities division.

Exports from the European Union alone made up for about one third of that, or nearly $15.6 billion. Exports of the United States were second, at nearly $5.8 billion, and Japan was third at almost $5.2 billion.

SHAKEN: The release of the James Bond film “No Time To Die” is being pushed back several months because of concerns about coronavirus. MGM, Universal and producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli announced on Twitter Wednesday that the film will be released in November, rather than next month as originally planned. “No Time To Die” will now hit theaters in the U.K. on Nov. 12 and worldwide on Nov. 25. Publicity plans for the film in China, Japan and South Korea had already been canceled because of the outbreak. Theaters are empty in regions afflicted by the virus.

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