Tuesday, 24 March 2020


Doing business in a time of Coronavirus/Covid-19, Supply Chain disruption and Business interruption - Where and How did this crisis originate?


  • This is a developing situation. Accordingly, role players continue to react and markets continue to adjust to the emerging situation. The historical data, facts and figures contained in this article were accurate at the time of publication, but statistical figures and some facts can change over time (e.g. share prices, mortality figures, etc). References below for further reading.
  • This article will be posted into 3 parts:

PART 1 – What happened and how did we get here?

2020 is fast turning into a watershed year. In early January the global economy was chugging along nicely, with some international Indexes peaking around record highs. However, New Year euphoria was cut short as news gradually broke about a virus spreading in Wuhan, China.

Figure 1 - Wuhan Map

Wuhan is a hi-tech hub and China’s “motor city”. It is the biggest city in Hubei province, known as the “thoroughfare of China” by virtue of being a transport and industrial hub for central China and the region’s political, economic and commercial centre. More than 300 of the world’s top 500 companies have a presence here. 

By 13 January, the first case was identified in nearby Thailand. By 22 January 2020, the novel coronavirus (subsequently referred to as Covid-19) had spread to major cities and provinces in China, with 571 confirmed cases and 17 deaths reported. On 23 January 2020 (2 days before Chinese New Year), authorities informed residents of Wuhan of an imminent lockdown from 10 am. An estimated 300 000 citizens left the city immediately. The lockdown spread as quarantine was imposed in various cities and regions. On this same day that the lockdown occurred, the first case of Corona was identified in Singapore. From early February, Chinese authorities began shutting down factories in a desperate attempt to halt the spread of the virus.

This plan did not work, and virus contagion spread to the rest of the world. And economic contagion followed – the following is a summary: 
  • China is the world's manufacturer and is also the world’s largest container cargo handler and home to seven of the world's 10 busiest container ports – processing around 30% of global traffic or around 715,000 containers a day in 2019
China factory activity plunges
  • The lockdowns meant that factories could not get stock shipped out that was already manufactured and simultaneously stopped manufacturing altogether. China’s manufacturing activity plunged to an all-time low in February, with the official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) slowing to 35.7, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Comparatively, during 2008’s Financial Crisis the manufacturing PMI only dropped to 38.8 in November 2008. Services were similarly affected, and the services index almost halved last month to just 26.5 from 51.8 in January (and first time lower than 50 since the index was started 15 years ago in late 2005.
 Reefer surcharges rocket due to Chinese port plug scarcity

  • Incoming cargo clogged ports and shipping lines started charging surge fees for refrigerated containers importing food. Some cargo ships left China carrying as little as 10% of TEU capacity, others cancelled trips. 
  • Overall China’s exports and imports plunged. Exports fell by 17.2% in January and February combined compared to the same period a year earlier, according to the General Administration of Customs
  • A survey by Beijing-based think tank the Shanghai International Shipping Institute shows that capacity utilisation at the main Chinese ports fell by 20-50%, while more than one-third of ports said storage facilities were more than 90% full.
 Wuhan residents trickle back after lock down

International impact

This lowered throughput had a knock-on effect on the other side of the Supply Chain in receiving countries:
  • LA handled 705 000 containers in Feb 2019. The same period Feb 2020 was down to 544 000 or 22.87%. By 18 March Los Angeles ports have seen 40 + “blank sailings” - ships scheduled to arrive that didn’t, numbers previously unheard of. 
  • On the Asia-Europe trade route, at least 61 cancelled sailings have been announced, representing a 151,000 TEU capacity reduction. China typically represents about 30% of Hamburg's container throughput and about 25% of Rotterdam's. Rotterdam Port Authority estimated that a 1% drop in its annual volume, which after recording throughput of 14.8 million TEU would amount to 148,000 TEUHamburg harbour reported a 40% plunge in trade volumes.

Oil Price War

 Oil war

Then, on 8 March 2020, after a potential oil production cut agreement with Russia fell flat, Saudi Arabia initiated a price war with Russia. This triggered an immediate international fall in the price of oil, with US oil prices falling by 34%, crude oil falling by 26%, and Brent oil falling by 24%.  Oil prices dropped to 18-year lows. For more info see here and here 


The fallout and contagion (both medically and financially speaking) spread nearly globally in the space of 3 months. This caught many off-guard, as global supply chains and financial markets were disrupted. In the next post, we will consider the potential and combined impact of the virus, supply chain interruptions and business disruption on commerce and industry, and potentially on your own business or organisation where you work.

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For more information, visit our website on www.cogniplex.co.za. A copy of this article is also posted on Linkedin.com 

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