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Business

Redundancies. Loss. Falling share price. These pandemic winners are now struggling




When people couldn’t (or wouldn’t) go to the gym, consumers rushed to buy the gym equipment and, more importantly, sign up for the online classes. Peloton delivered its first quarterly profit in calendar year 2020 as revenue rose 139% and its stock rose 434%.

The boost was short-lived. As gyms reopened and class subscriptions and equipment sales plunged, so did the company’s outlook.

On Thursday, after posting a worse-than-expected fourth-quarter financial loss, Peloton CEO Barry McCarthy wrote in a letter to investors that “naysayers will look at our fourth-quarter financial performance and see a melting pot of declining revenue, negative gross margin and deeper operating deficits. They will say that these threaten the viability of the business.”[ads1];

However, McCarthy sees big things ahead for the company despite its problems, claiming Peloton has made significant progress in its turnaround and halted its cash burn.

Investors do not share his belief. Shares have lost more than 90% of their value since the end of 2020, and are now worth less than half of what they were at the start of that year.

Peloton is hardly the only pandemic winner that has recently become a post-pandemic loser. Numerous companies that convinced themselves – and investors – that they were well positioned to continue growing once Covid receded have been proven wrong.

Here are some other spikes from 2020 that have become duds in 2022.

Wayfair

The pandemic forced people to stay at home and, in millions of cases, start working from there. Many took the money they saved by not commuting or vacationing to buy furniture and other things to redecorate their homes.

That house purchases have largely stopped. Consumers have shifted their shopping priorities, especially amid skyrocketing prices of necessities such as food and gasoline that have forced many households to cut back on non-essential purchases. Now, such purchases are more likely to be for things like long-delayed travel plans rather than multiple items.
The shift in spending has hit a wide range of retailers, including giants like Walmart and Target. But perhaps the poster child for companies balking at this shift is online home improvement retailer Wayfair, which just announced it’s cutting 5% of its workforce. In the announcement, the CEO admitted that the company had been overly optimistic about its ongoing growth potential.

“We’ve grown Wayfair significantly to keep pace with e-commerce growth in the home category. We saw the tailwinds of the pandemic accelerate e-commerce adoption, and I personally pushed hard to hire a strong team to support that growth,” said the CEO Niraj Shah in a letter to employees announcing the layoffs. “This year, that growth has not materialized as we had expected. Our team is too large for the environment we are now in, and we unfortunately have to adjust.”

It’s not just that the company isn’t growing as fast as it had been. Like Peloton, Wayfair has switched to reverse and to red ink. Revenue for the first six months of this year is down 14%, and it just reported a net loss of $697 million compared to a profit of $149 million in the same period in 2021.

Wayfair stock, which rose 482% between the end of March 2020 and the end of March 2021, has essentially given up all of those gains.

Shopify

The Canadian software company that helps retailers sell online was also a big winner as companies were forced to move to e-commerce due to the pandemic. Last month, the founder and CEO announced that Shopify was cutting 10% of its staff because the ongoing growth “bet didn’t pay off.”

“Shopify has always been a company that makes the big strategic efforts our sellers demand of us – this is how we succeed,” CEO Tobi Lutke wrote in a memo to employees announcing the layoffs.

The company’s pre-Covid E-commerce growth had been steady and predictable, he said, but the first days of the pandemic brought a never-expected surge in sales.

“Would this increase be a temporary effect or a new normal? And so, given what we saw, we placed another bet: We bet that the channel mix—the share of dollars traveling through e-commerce rather than brick-and-mortar retail—would permanently jump forward by five or even ten years,” he said. “We couldn’t know for sure at the time, but we knew that if there was a chance this was true, we had to grow the company to match.”

The good times didn’t disappear as quickly as they did for some of the other pandemic winners. But they have certainly retreated.

While revenue is up 18% in the first six months of the year compared to a year earlier, Shopify’s costs, including for research and development, have nearly doubled. The company also suffered a $1 billion paper loss on its equity investments in the second quarter, causing it to swing to a net loss of $2.7 billion for the period from a profit of $2.1 billion a year earlier.

The company’s shares continued to rally through 2021, but are down 75% so far this year.

Zoom

The online meeting platform does not face the same challenges as some of the other previous pandemic winners. Millions of people still work remotely, at least part of the time, and Zoom (ZM) is still profitable. But earnings have fallen by 71% in the first half of this year due to increased costs. The company has beaten profit forecasts, and the share price is still just above pre-pandemic levels.
Zoom reported weaker-than-expected earnings this week and provided an outlook that disappointed investors, sending shares down 17% on the day the company reported results.

For the year, Zoom shares are down 56%, and are down 86% since their peak in late October 2020, when the pandemic raged and there were no widely available vaccines.

Some of the blame for the slide can be laid at the feet of investors, who got ahead of themselves and drove the share price up 765% between the end of 2019 and the peak 10 months later.

Additionally, every bit of good news about beating back Covid was taken as bad news for Zoom: Shares plunged 25% in the two days following news of Pfizer’s success in clinical trials for a Covid vaccine in November 2020.

Netflix

Netflix was very successful long before anyone heard about Covid-19. Even in the face of increased streaming competition, the platform had a successful 2019, when two original films, Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” attracted both viewers and best picture nominations. “The Crown” returned for a third season with a new cast.

With that lineup, Netflix (NFLX) shares rose 21% during 2019 as revenue rose 28%. The service added 27 million subscribers globally during the year.
The stream wars are over
But things really kicked off with the pandemics. Netflix added 16 million subscribers in the first three months of 2020 and ended the year topping 200 million subscribers for the first time.

Netflix shares also soared, more than doubling in value from the start of 2020 to a record high of $691.69 in November 2021.

But the competition has increased. In the first quarter this year the company lost 200,000 subscribers globally, the first decline in subscribers in a decade, and nowhere near the 2.5 million gain it had previously predicted. In the second quarter, it lost another 970,000.

The company has also lost investor support. Netflix shares have lost nearly two-thirds of their value so far this year, although they have rebounded from a 12-month low in May as investors braced for even bigger subscriber losses.



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