Let's face it, the COVID-19 coronavirus is concerning, and the daily financial headlines about it are even scarier, thanks to the constant media coverage. However, it's never a good idea to make investment decisions out of panic. That means taking the very real negative headlines along with the positive ones, and making as objective an assessment as you can.
No doubt, U.S. headlines have been nerve-wracking, with cases multiplying in hotspots like Washington state, New York, and northern California. In addition, Italy looks especially dour, with the entire country recently being put on lockdown. The World Health Organization (WHO) says we are "very close" to a pandemic -- albeit one that can possibly be contained.
So where was the good news today? The unlikeliest place of all: Wuhan, China.
New China cases down to 19
China reported only 19 new cases in the country today, with 17 in the city of Wuhan, where the virus originated. That's a fairly remarkable decline in a country that experienced a huge explosion of cases just a little over a month ago. Since late December, China has reported 80,000 cases, with 67,000 in Hubei province, home of the origin city of Wuhan. The recent declines are fairly striking, considering the degree to which other countries have recently had difficulty containing the virus. It's also a testament to the unprecedented lockdown measures the Chinese government put in place in Wuhan in late January.
In fact, the situation has improved so much that Wuhan recently shut down 11 of the 14 temporary hospitals it had built for the influx of new patients. And in perhaps an even more important symbolic move, President Xi Jinping visited Wuhan today, the first time he has done so since the virus erupted around the New Year holiday.
"I always felt that the number one signal for the Chinese government having enough confidence to declare this as the end would be when President Xi goes to Wuhan," Mark Matthews, head of research Asia at Bank Julius Baer, told CNBC's Street Signs Asia.
It appears that at least in China, the government is claiming to have gotten a confident handle on the virus.
The Chinese economy is returning to normal
In addition, several leading Chinese companies are reporting that they're getting back to normal operations. E-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) is reportedly back to full staffing for its package delivery unit Cainiao and food delivery unit Ele.me. Alibaba rival JD.com (NASDAQ:JD) just reported a strong quarter and projected that it would grow sales "at least" 10% year over year in the first quarter -- a quarter in which a large part of the country was on extended holiday and a major city was completely locked down. And CNBC is reporting that iPhone giant Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has reopened 38 of its 42 Apple stores in China, up from 29 on Feb. 24 and zero on Feb. 9, when Apple shut down all of its stores as a precaution. In addition, Apple said its production facilities in China are back to 50% capacity, and should be at full capacity by the end of the month.
China is important
While the U.S. looks as if its economy might slow in the coming weeks, it appears China is coming back. China has been a major engine of global growth ever since the financial crisis of 2008, and many commodity-related companies as well as global businesses like Apple depend on China for a fair amount of their revenue.
The rapid decline in new cases in China also provides hope that newly affected countries can potentially control the spread of the virus, provided they take stringent enough measures to control it. Of course, that all remains to be seen.
While a lockdown wouldn't be so great for travel, event, airline, or oil stocks, it should benefit "stay-at-home" stocks in the near term. That's why those types of stocks are the ones I would look to buy amid this market sell-off.