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‘Jail, with the chance of being drowned’—more turmoil at sea for the virus-stricken cruise ship sector

February 12, 2020, 10:38 AM UTC

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Good morning. From Tokyo to London and points closer to home, there’s a lot of green on the boards today. Let’s dig in to the indices and sectors drawing the most attention.

Market movers

Again on Wednesday, global equities are chugging forward, building off yesterday’s gains. The Asian and European markets are in positive territory, as are U.S. futures.

Earnings, not contagion data, is the big trigger so far. Two stocks that are really popping in Europe are the luxury goods conglomerate Kering and Heineken, which both reported this morning. Energy too is rebounding for a second straight day, with crude up solidly. The dollar is flat.

On Tuesday, the markets made an optimistic read of the coronavirus data out of China. That’s again the case today as we see more evidence (it’s very early, mind you) that there’s a slowdown in the rate of new infections.

In hot water

One of the best performing slivers of the market on Tuesday came from the cruise ship operators. But zoom out and you quickly see these stocks— Carnival Corp, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruises—have been ravaged by the coronavirus outbreak.

Even the most ardent cruise-goer would shiver at the plight of the Westerdam, which remains adrift at sea looking for a safe port, and that of the quarantined Diamond Princess, which has become a breeding ground for the coronavirus. Both vessels are owned by Carnival Corp.

The predicament these cruise passengers find themselves in evokes that old line by the 18th Century English author Samuel Johnson: “Being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.”

Let’s hope it never gets that bad.

Still, the steady drip of dire news has triggered analyst downgrades, and we have little clarity of the full impact of coronavirus on bookings.

The market reaction has been swift. Strap on a life-preserver for today’s chart.


Carnival (down 17.2%) is the poorest performer of the pack since the mid-January coronavirus outbreak emerged. Peers have hardly fared much better. That all compares to modest gains in the S&P 500, up 0.8% in that period.

Just this morning I got a note from economists at Berenberg who hold one of the more bullish views out there that coronavirus won’t sink global trade. But they do have concerns. Chief among them is the contagion’s impact on travel and tourism.

“We have to brace ourselves for some further bad news,” they say in their investor briefing.


Let’s hope the news tomorrow is a bit better.

Bernhard Warner

Today's reads

Soft patch. SoftBank is still struggling with its startup investments. The Japanese company again lost money on its Vision Fund, three months after posting a record loss driven by the meltdown at WeWork. That impacted the larger business as SoftBank reported a slim operating profit of 2.6 billion yen, way below expectations. One bright spot for SoftBank is Tuesday’s green light for the Sprint-T-Mobile merger, reports Fortune’s Anne Sraders. SoftBank, which owns nearly 85% of Sprint, saw its stock soar on the news. It's "a huge get out of jail free card" for SoftBank, says Morningstar's Dan Baker.

Big five. Just five companies now make up 18% of the S&P 500. Microsoft, AppleGoogleAmazon and Facebook have collectively added $4.4 trillion in market cap gains since 2013, and are now the largest stocks in the index. Fortune contributor Ben Carlson wonders if such a small concentration of earning power is a good thing. Could it be the recipe for a market crash?

Rich get richer. The wealthiest U.S. households are strengthening their grip on corporate America, the Financial Times reports. The richest 1% of Americans now account for more than half the value of equities owned by U.S. households, according to Goldman Sachs. Since 1990, the wealthiest have bought a net $1.2 trillion of shares, while the rest of the population has sold more than $1 trillion. Three decades ago, the top percentage point of Americans by wealth controlled 46% of all U.S. equities. 

Market candy

Quiz time. A quick quiz—woohoo!— to liven up your Wednesday. The markets have had a topsy-turvy start to the year with a big gulf between winners and losers. So which major index is the best-performer for 2020 so far? Is it:

  • a) S&P 500
  • b) Swiss MSI
  • c) Nikkei 225
  • d) Nasdaq

Answer: D. The Nasdaq is racing ahead, up 7.43% in 2020.