Financial Times

NEW YORK, June 17, 2020  -- Staff workers serve customers outside an Apple store on Fifth Avenue of New York City, the United States, June 17, 2020.
Enlarge / NEW YORK, June 17, 2020 — Staff workers serve customers outside an Apple store on Fifth Avenue of New York City, the United States, June 17, 2020.

Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

Apple says it will again close almost a dozen stores in the US because of a recent rise in coronavirus infections in the south and west, reversing its recent move to begin reopening stores as states start to ease lockdowns.

The move sent US stocks lower, as investors feared that Apple’s caution could signal wider apprehension among businesses about whether it is safe to begin reopening the US economy.

Apple shares turned negative on the news, dropping 1.4 percent, while the entire S&P 500 index shed its gains from the morning. Apple stock remains near a record high, however, with investors valuing the group above $1.5 trillion—about $220 billion more than at the start of the year.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives called it a “worrisome trend” for US retail, though he reckoned the impact on Apple sales would be limited. “Apple is a key barometer, globally,” he said. “For [chief executive Tim] Cook to close stores after reopening just a month ago, it’s a headline gut punch to the reopening bulls.”

The iPhone maker named 11 locations in four states that will close. Six locations are being shut in Arizona, where daily new cases have spiked to 2,519, versus fewer than 300 in late May. Two locations are being re-closed in Florida, where daily cases have risen almost six-fold in the last month to 3,207.

Other locations are in North Carolina and South Carolina, each which have experienced daily records in the past week.

“Due to current Covid-19 conditions in some of the communities we serve, we are temporarily closing stores in these areas,” Apple said. “We take this step with an abundance of caution as we closely monitor the situation and we look forward to having our teams and customers back as soon as possible.”

Apple had originally closed all of its global retail stores outside China on March 14, citing a need to “reduce density and maximize social distance”.

On May 8, when it looked like coronavirus had begun to wane, Apple said it was “excited” to begin reopening its US locations, beginning with Idaho, South Carolina, Alabama and Alaska. Customers were required to undergo a quick temperature check, then wear masks and observe social distancing inside.

Just days ago, Apple said it anticipated reopening 70 more stores in the US by the end of the week—including some in New York City, which will move into a new phase of its reopening on Monday—implying that more than 200 of its 271 US stores would be back in operation.

Meantime, in Apple’s home state of California, Governor Gavin Newsom continued to tighten restrictions to mitigate the spread of the virus. He announced on Thursday that masks would now be required in “any indoor public space” including hospitals, public transit and when performing work.

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