What happened

Shares of upscale department-store chain Nordstrom (JWN -1.19%) were rising on Thursday afternoon after an influential analyst team said that the coronavirus pandemic might not have as large an impact on the company as feared.

As of 2:00 p.m. EDT, Nordstrom's shares were up about 8% from Wednesday's closing price.

So what

In a new note on Thursday morning, a team of Cowen analysts led by Oliver Chen said that revenue for retailers including Nordstrom could fall as much as 50% in March and 100% in April. But they see a good chance that things will recover from there, with the full-year impact being around 12% of 2019 revenue and 50% of earnings per share.

A Nordstrom sign on the outside of a store.

Image source: Nordstrom.

That sounds bad, doesn't it? For investors eyeing battered retail stocks, it was arguably upbeat news. Like most brick-and-mortar retail stocks, Nordstrom's shares have had a very rough couple of weeks.

Health authorities in the U.S. and Canada have recommended "social distancing" to try to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in an effort to avoid overloading healthcare resources -- and that has clobbered in-store retail traffic and sales.

Now what

Nordstrom has made the right moves so far. The company said on Tuesday that it will close all of its stores in the U.S. and Canada for at least two weeks while continuing to provide pay and benefits for its employees during the shutdown period. Not surprisingly, it also withdrew its previous guidance for 2020.

Is the Cowen team's optimism justified? Certainly, China seems to be recovering faster than many expected. If the U.S. and Canada have similar success in their antivirus efforts while managing the economic fallout well, it's not impossible that the second half of 2020 will look pretty decent for companies like Nordstrom.

There are a lot of "ifs" there, however. Investors will need to watch developments carefully over the next few weeks.