From Covid-19 to BLM and the US election: 2020 in charts

Dec 23, 2020
Earnings call mentions paint a picture of an exceptional year

This year will primarily be remembered for the coronavirus pandemic that grounded the world – and that continues as we enter 2021, though a number of vaccines hopefully shine light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel.

But that’s not all that marked 2020. A turbulent year, with Black Lives Matter protests across the US sparked by the killing of George Floyd in May and record voter turnout at the US election – not to mention the ups and downs and uncertainty of the market. Data from Sentieo allows us to see just how company mentions take us through a year to remember. Or forget.

All data supplied by Sentieo. Click on the charts to go to a larger, live version.

Covid-19

If there’s anything that 2020 will be remembered for, it’s the pandemic that brought the world to a standstill. Despite emerging in Wuhan, China at the end of 2019, it didn’t really hit earnings calls until May 2020. Hits for Covid plus synonyms went from just 180 transcripts in January 2020 to more than 5,000 in May.

Vaccines

Of course, once we all realized the full impact of the new coronavirus on our lives, what we were all waiting for was the silver bullet vaccine. Like busses, you wait for one and then three come along at once, with what was once a fringe topic among healthcare companies rocketing to more than 1,000 mentions in November when the first vaccine by Pfizer and BioNtech was announced as being 95 percent effective against Covid-19. At the time of writing, it remains to be seen what impact (if any) the latest mutation spreading in the UK will have.

You can read about how big pharma and biotech companies handled the intense focus that came from working on these vaccines in our Winter 2020 cover story.

Working from home: You’re on mute

As flights were grounded and the world went virtual, working from home became the new normal with ‘work from home’ hitting a May transcript-mention high of more than 1,400 – up from essentially nothing in the pre-pandemic world as companies talked about how they were going to continue operating through the Covid-19 crisis.

But as accustomed as we might now all be at connecting via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or whatever other tech we’re using – with many companies running fully virtual AGMs and even virtual roadshows this year – the fact is that we’re still learning. Transcripts with ‘on mute’ hit a high of 188 in May this year but even by November we were still forgetting about the mute button, with 179 mentions that month.

You can read more about some of the other technical issues companies dealt with on the virtual earnings calls here.

Black Lives Matter

It wasn’t all about Covid-19 of course. Black Lives Matter protests across the US and even elsewhere, sparked by the killing of George Floyd in May, pushed the issue of racism onto the earnings call. The ‘summer of turmoil’ saw companies addressing the issue, with at least 139 mentions of ‘racism’ or ‘racial’ across June, July and August.

Trump out, Biden in

November’s US election saw record voter turnout, with Joe Biden eventually being named president-elect. But while Trump was contesting counts in numerous states, ‘fake news’ and other Trumpisms were already on the way out. Despite occasional monthly spikes, fake news had been getting a declining number of mentions since 2017.

Winners, losers and a recovery

Away from earnings calls, Sentieo data highlights what Nick Mazing, the firm’s director of research, terms ‘the big disconnect,’ with the S&P 500 index at near all-time highs despite the unemployment ‘gloom’.

Some of the big winners of course are those companies holding the tech that helped all the other companies keep going. ‘The combined market cap of the big working from home winners (Zoom, Slack, Peloton, Teladoc) almost quintupled in 2020, to over $200 bn,’ points out Mazing.

And in some final positive news for the future, he tells IR Magazine that ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel.

‘Even the hardest hit names (such as cruise lines and theme parks) should see a revenue recovery towards pre-Covid levels in 2022.’

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