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Author: eachus Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 303  
Subject: The effects of SARS on the economy Date: 4/24/2003 5:31 PM
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I suggested that Motley Fool open a board on this topic, and I promised Cor I would post when I caught up on the AMD board. (Lots of posts there due to the Opteron introduction.)

First the question of whether SARS will affect the US economy and the stock market has been answered in the affirmative. Of course, the airlines have been the first to suffer, as if they needed more suffering:

The staggering airline industry is especially hard hit by the outbreak.

The Air Transport Association said that SARS was a factor in the decline in airline traffic in the Easter and Passover week, with declines especially pronounced to Asian destinations.


(from: http://sg.biz.yahoo.com/030423/1/3abeo.html)

What about other industries? That depends on the progress in limiting the spread of SARS. Right now I am assuming that it will continue to get worse in Hong Kong and mainland China before it gets better. The Vietnamese outbreak seems to be contained, as do most of those outside of China, with the exception of Toronto, Canada. Not that Canada is not trying hard. When it comes to new diseases, even as hard as possible may not be hard enough. China is taking SARS seriously now, but it may be too late to avoid widespread outbreaks. Or to put it differently, even if through some miracle SARS transmission stopped tomorrow, the situation in China would get much worse during the next week to 10 days.

With that background what will be the effects on specific industries? Sales of clothing made in China have not yet been affected, and whether or when they will is probably up to random chance right now. Most clothing is shipped by sea, with supply chains months in length. There are lots of ships at sea right now carrying clothes made in China. If someone, or several crew members on a ship come down with SARS, the ship may be admitted to the US or some other port without quarentine--if it has been at least ten days since the last new case on board.

And that is probably the first effect we will see. Some ships will be quarentined because of SARS among the crew, but it won't be a big deal. Eventually though ships will prefer to avoid cargos that require them to dock in Hong Kong or mainland China. If and when ships start asking too much to go to China, or won't accept Chinese cargos at any price, that will have a huge effect. Has that started? Probably. But most ship owners can't be that choosy, and will probably be satisfied to keep their crews on board--and possibly not buy some types of fresh produce and especially poultry in China.

The effect on the electronics industry will depend on the progress of SARS (or against SARS) in Taiwan and Singapore. Right now those statistics look good. There have been outbreaks in both places but the public health measures taken, if draconian in nature seem to have things under control, if barely. See: http://asia.news.yahoo.com/030423/ap/d7qj39a03.html and http://www.taiwanheadlines.gov.tw/20030414/20030414s2.html

So China's economy will be trashed no matter what. The effects on economies outside of mainland China and Hong Kong so far has been restricted to airlines. Shipping and clothing sales may be affected as the situation in China gets worse, but with the special exception of Toronto, the rest of the world is so far getting off lightly.

Unfortunately, the key words in the previous paragraph are so far.

Is there any silver lining to SARS for any sector? Hospitals are seeing more business, but hospital staffs have been among the worst hit by SARS, and some hospitals and emergency rooms have been closed as a consequence. No easy money to be found there. Similarly, if SARS becomes pandemic, some pharmaceutical company will eventually make money off a vaccine. But developing a vaccine in the near future isn't going to happen, and the same for almost any drugs to treat SARS patients.

Even if a vaccine or treatment were to be available today, the total demand would be small. The discoverer would get lots of good press, and maybe a Nobel Prize. But any stockholder benefits would occur if there was a large demand--and if SARS becomes a world-wide epidemic all stocks are going to get pretty badly punished.

So as far as I can see, only bears are likely to benefit from SARS.
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