Coronavirus outbreak: Economic impact could be larger than SARS

Timber ready for export.
The economic impact of coronavirus could be larger than SARS. Photo credit: Getty.

The coronavirus outbreak is already having an impact on the world's economy, and uncertainty is unlikely to go away until the virus is contained.   

If Chinese demand for Kiwi exports falls, the local economy could be hit harder than the SARS outbreak, but markets could rebound quickly if it is contained, experts say.

Sharon Zollner, chief economist at ANZ, said that in addition to dairy products, sheepmeat, beef, forestry and wool have dramatically increased the share of Kiwi exports sent to China - and forestry is the most exposed.  

"Forestry sends a larger percentage of it's output to China than any other industry: it has five times the exposure it did in 2003," Zollner said.
Drawing comparisons between coronavirus and SARS, Jarod Kerr, chief economist at Kiwibank said that confidence, supply chains, and tourism are all impacted - but this time, the economic impact could be bigger.
"China’s economy today is much larger, more integrated (with more Chinese travelling abroad), and more urbanised: the threats are simply greater," Kerr said. 
As Chinese port operations are placed in lockdown, logistical bottlenecks for seafood, meat and forestry exports and cancellation of new year celebrations could cause demand - including meat exports - to drop.   
"How serious the impact is depends on whether the disruption is [short] or longer-term," Zollner said.
Although uncertainty created by coronavirus is affecting confidence, Kiwibank expects markets to recover once the virus is contained.
"What we saw in 2003 was quite a decent contraction and then a really swift rebound in activity," Kerr said.
Last September, confidence was at a lower level, but more recent business confidence surveys have seen it stabilise off the back of the infrastructure announcement and strong monetary and fiscal policy.
"We forecast equity markets and interest rates to end 2020 higher," Kerr said. 
"Mortgage rates should start to drift higher into 2021 - and we expect the Kiwi dollar to rise as risk appetite improves with global growth," he added.
Leighton Roberts, co-founder of online investment platform Sharesies confirmed that following international counterparts, share prices for Auckland International Airport and Air New Zealand "have dropped by 7 percent and 10 percent respectively."

"Slightly smaller companies like Tourism Holdings Limited (THL) have been even more impacted, with THL down [around] 14 percent," Roberts said.

As markets price based on how certain people are about how a company is able to perform, the big word right now for coronavirus is 'uncertainty' - and that's likely to change as the scale of the impact becomes known.

"Certainty brings confidence: once the uncertainty clears, companies can adjust their strategies and normally rebound pretty fast," Roberts said.