You could call it the ultimate safety stock.
As U.S. markets swooned, shares of Lakeland Industries, a protective clothing maker whose products include hazmat suits, jumped 22% by the market’s close Thursday, representing a rise of 88% year-to-date.
Dizzy from coronavirus’ rapid global spread in countries including South Korea and Italy, some investors appeared to be hunting for defensive stocks that tend to do better in downturns. As of Thursday, 82,550 people have been infected with 2,810 deaths worldwide. Forty-seven countries have reported cases, with 60 in the U.S.
The surge in Lakeland’s stock doesn’t appear to be predicated on any particular news, but on speculation that the spreading virus will boost demand for masks and hazmat suits among healthcare professionals, and that some demand will flow to Lakeland Industries. Some of the rise may also be based on speculation that other traders will come to that conclusion.
The trade is not a new idea. After the U.S. confirmed its first case of Ebola in Oct. 2014, Lakeland shares rose dramatically, with the company later confirming that it had ramped up production due to Ebola, materially improving the business.
Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak traders have flocked to other companies that make protective gear, such as Japanese mask maker Kawamoto Corp., whose stock is up 391% since the start of the year.
There is currently no clear indication whether coronavirus will have a material impact this time around on Lakeland, which is a micro cap company valued at about $145 million and trades with much volatility.
Lakeland is not considered the leader in the hazmat industries‚ that would be Dupont. However that company has multiple business lines and operations in China at a time when corporations are warning of lower earnings and supply chain disruptions due to the virus—making the shares less attractive for traders looking to bet purely on protective health gear. Dupont says it has ramped up production of its own hazmat suits, while 3M says it is doing the same for its respirators in reaction to the outbreak.
Lakeland declined to comment for this story.
The interest in protection also goes beyond healthcare professionals. While panicked selling is driving stock markets lower, panicked buying is driving up some anecdotal interest in hazmat suits.
“These are absolutely desperate people, and it’s tripled my site traffic,” say PK Safety CEO Rick Pedley. His products, which include face masks and hazmat suits, are “effectively out of stock” as consumers afraid of coronavirus have phoned in.
Historically, PK Safety’s customers come from businesses such as those in the oil and gas industry or in construction—where workers often come in contact with hazardous chemicals. In the throes of Coronavirus panic however, uncommonly large demand is coming from consumers who are also drilling down on his site to search for the arcane differences between, say, a N95 or P100 mask.
Pedley, who ran his business through the SARS outbreak and Ebola scare, says the masks typically go first, with full-body suits following.
Even Amazon, where consumers are accustomed to finding everything, has seen shortages. Research from Jungle Scout says that Amazon sold out of its best-selling hazmat suits on February 5, leaving only third party sellers as sources.
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