Furniture giant IKEA making masks to help fight coronavirus

IKEA has reopened all but one store in China, where the virus emerged, but across markets a majority of the 436 stores are temporarily closed. (File/AFP)
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Updated 31 March 2020

Furniture giant IKEA making masks to help fight coronavirus

  • The first batches for European health care facilities are in transit
  • Several other companies are also working to help address an acute shortage of medical supplies

STOCKHOLM, March 31 : Furniture giant IKEA is producing face masks and other protective gear for hospitals, joining a growing list of companies branching out of their normal business areas to help meet equipment shortages in the fight against coronavirus.
Having started off with masks for staff in China in early stages of the pandemic, the Swedish group is working with several suppliers to ramp up output of masks for health workers, as well as hand sanitisers, visors and single-use aprons.
The first batches for European health care facilities are in transit, Henrik Elm, global supply manager at brand owner Inter IKEA Group, which is in charge of supply, told Reuters.
Several other companies are also working to help address an acute shortage of medical supplies, with vacuum cleaner company Dyson making ventilators, fashion group Armani producing medical overalls and spirits brand Ricard donating alcohol for sanitisers.
Working from home
IKEA has reopened all but one store in China, where the virus emerged, but across markets a majority of the 436 stores are temporarily closed.
Demand for office furniture is holding up as many people are working from home in the health crisis, Elm said.
“The sales pattern is changing. One area where we are selling pretty well compared to others is office furniture. People are working from home and they have identified needs in their homes for it,” he said in an interview.
“So, it (demand) is distributed differently — in some areas we keep it up well, in some we have a major impact.”
Well-prepared’
Elm said supply chain disruptions had increased with the spread of the virus to Europe and America, with closed borders or restricted movement a key bottleneck.
IKEA has managed to cope, however, partly by spreading inventories to warehouses in several locations, he said.
“So far, we have seen a limited effect on the availability of our offer,” he said.
Elm said he expected no shortages of wood or other materials, such as plastics and textiles, as global demand for such materials was in decline.
One area of concern, however, is finding room to store goods already in transit to markets where IKEA has temporarily closed many of its stores.
“There will be constraints in coming weeks in harboring these goods. Warehouses will be a bottleneck,” he said. “Things that were on their way we are either re-steering or storing.”
IKEA produces a tenth of products itself and sources the rest from suppliers, mostly in Asia and Europe.
As IKEA and other retailers adapt to slowing consumer demand, many suppliers and service partners are struggling.
Elm said IKEA was assisting them with loans, swift invoice payments and help accessing government support packages.


S&P 500 inches closer to record high

Updated 12 August 2020

S&P 500 inches closer to record high

  • US stock market index returns to levels last seen before the onset of coronavirus crisis

NEW YORK: The S&P 500 on Tuesday closed in on its February record high, returning to levels last seen before the onset of the coronavirus crisis that caused one of Wall Street’s most dramatic crashes in history.

The benchmark index was about half a percent below its peak hit on Feb. 19, when investors started dumping shares in anticipation of what proved to be the biggest slump in the US economy since the Great Depression.

Ultra-low interest rates, trillions of dollars in stimulus and, more recently, a better-than-feared second quarter earnings season have allowed all three of Wall Street’s main indexes to recover.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq has led the charge, boosted by “stay-at-home winners” Amazon.com Inc., Netflix Inc. and Apple Inc. The index was down about 0.4 percent.

The blue chip Dow surged 1.2 percent, coming within 5 percent of its February peak.

“You’ve got to admit that this is a market that wants to go up, despite tensions between US-China, despite news of the coronavirus not being particularly encouraging,” said Andrea Cicione, a strategist at TS Lombard.

“We’re facing an emergency from the health, economy and employment point of view — the outlook is a lot less rosy. There’s a disconnect between valuation and the actual outlook even though lower rates to some degree justify high valuation.”

Aiding sentiment, President Vladimir Putin claimed Russia had become the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine. But the approval’s speed has concerned some experts as the vaccine still must complete final trials.

Investors are now hoping Republicans and Democrats will resolve their differences and agree on another relief program to support about 30 million unemployed Americans, as the battle with the virus outbreak was far from over with US cases surpassing 5 million last week.

Also in focus are Sino-US tensions ahead of high-stakes trade talks in the coming weekend.

“Certainly the rhetoric from Washington has been negative with regards to China ... there’s plenty of things to worry about, but markets are really focused more on the very easy fiscal and monetary policies at this point,” said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago.

Financials, energy and industrial sectors, that have lagged the benchmark index this year, provided the biggest boost to the S&P 500 on Tuesday.

The S&P 500 was set to rise for the eighth straight session, its longest streak of gains since April 2019.

The S&P 500 was up 15.39 points, or 0.46 percent, at 3,375.86, about 18 points shy of its high of 3,393.52. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 341.41 points, or 1.23 percent, at 28,132.85, and the Nasdaq Composite was down 48.37 points, or 0.44 percent, at 10,919.99.

Royal Caribbean Group jumped 4.6 percent after it hinted at new safety measures aimed at getting sailing going again after months of cancellations. Peers Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and Carnival Corp. also rose.

US mall owner Simon Property Group Inc. gained 4.1 percent despite posting a disappointing second quarter profit, as its CEO expressed some hope over a recovery in retail as lockdown measures in some regions eased.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners 3.44-to-1 on the NYSE and 1.44-to-1 on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 35 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 50 new highs and four new lows.