Coronavirus: Companies named 'corona' suffer massive hits to share prices

You cannot catch the coronavirus by drinking Corona beer. Photo credit: Getty

While the coronavirus pandemic will have an enormous impact on the global economy, one particular group of businesses appears to have been singled out for extra punishment.

A team of international researchers, including Les Oxley from the University of Waikato, have found businesses with the word 'corona' in their name, or who sell corona-branded products, have seen drops in their share prices - despite having nothing to do with the virus, which has killed more than 130,000 people worldwide.

"In all cases, when the World Health Organization put out the alert about coronavirus, their share prices all declined and volatility in their prices increased," Dr Oxley told Newshub.

"Their prices were lower and their prices were much more variable."

Corona is a Latin word meaning 'crown'.

The coronavirus at the centre of the pandemic is called SARS-CoV-2. It causes COVID-19, the unpredictable disease which has now infected more than 2 million people - including 1386 in New Zealand. It spreads through respiratory droplets, and is highly contagious.

Dr Oxley says he and the team of researchers from as far away as Ireland were intrigued by a survey earlier this year which suggested more than a third of beer drinkers in the US would no longer drink Corona, one of the world's top-selling drinks.

"Corona is that beer where you stick a piece of lemon in the top and walk around on the beach and look pretty cool," he explained.

In the survey, 38 percent said they'd stop drinking it to avoid catching the virus, and a further 16 percent weren't sure. This was "really quite weird", Dr Oxley said, as viruses don't spread through words alone.

"So what we decided to do was see whether businesses [whose name contained] 'corona' or was associated with corona, whether they were being adversely affected more than most by the coronavirus."

They looked at three large companies - Constellation Brands, which imports Corona beer into the US; Corona Corporation, a Japanese maker of air conditioners and heaters; and Coronation Managers, a South African investment firm.

All three had "strong negative hourly returns in the period after the announcement of the existence of the COVID-2019 pandemic" the research found, which couldn't be explained by the usual market forces, which have hurt economies worldwide.

"The reasons for so would be deemed somewhat irrational, but mostly very unfortunately driven by name association."

In late February, Anheuser-Busch InBev SA - which owns the company which makes Corona - reported a NZ$455 million revenue loss. Dr Oxley said their research found no other major beer companies appeared to be affected - in fact, they might have seen a "positive effect", with people forced to stay at home amid lockdowns.

"We don't know what the effect has been in New Zealand. Customers are locked down, so we don't really have the same access to sales of Corona versus other beers. We concentrated more on the companies, because the share price normally very quickly responds to good or bad news." 

Dr Oxley suggested the United States' government's mixed messaging on COVID-19 could be why 38 percent of American beer drinkers believed COVID-19 could be spread through Corona. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly made false and misleading statements about the virus, often having to be corrected by his own health officials.

"It's pretty clear that the public statements coming out of the US are much different to the sorts of media statements coming out of countries like New Zealand and Australia. So it's hard to know what's inside their heads."

Dr Oxley said Constellation Brands should probably undertake a mythbusting campaign at some point to restore confidence in Corona beer, but perhaps not right away.

"At the moment there's all sorts of conspiracy theories going around about where the virus came from, Donald Trump trying to call it the 'China virus' and all sorts of information and misinformation which probably means a marketing campaign is a little premature."

The research, Aye Corona! The contagion effects of being named Corona during the COVID-19 pandemic, can be read online.