At a loss to describe the scale of disruption caused by the novel coronavirus, corporate America is falling back on the adjective to describe everything from supply chain stress to the severity of the health crisis. As of Tuesday, nearly three-quarters of the 52 S&P 500 Index companies that have reported since April 14 used “unprecedented” on earnings calls, according to a Bloomberg analysis of transcripts.
Executives at International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM) Corp. employed the word seven times in the technology giant’s April 20 earnings call, referencing demands on its customers and “unprecedented times.” BlackRock Inc (NYSE:BLK)., the world’s largest asset manager, used the word five times on April 16, including a reference to financial markets.
The coronavirus has infected more than 2.5 million people around the world, and efforts to stop its spread have brought activity in broad swaths of the global economy to a halt. Volatility in financial markets and government efforts to shore up economies have prompted comparisons to the 2008 financial crisis. That period also saw executives commonly use the word “unprecedented” to describe the economic pain, but with less frequency.
Over a comparable period in October 2008, the first reporting period after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection, “unprecedented” appeared in fewer than half of S&P 500 earnings calls.
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