What happens to high-flying startups if the pandemic trade flips?

An effective vaccine trial is shaking up public companies, unicorns and startups

So much can change in a day.

This morning, news that a trial COVID-19 vaccine candidate had an effective rate of more than 90% shook the financial world. The Pfizer vaccine is reportedly so effective, the company “will have manufactured enough doses to immunize 15 to 20 million people” by the end of the year, according to the New York Times, appears to have given investors the green light to pile back into companies harmed by the pandemic.

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The shift of money from shares that proved popular during the summer is massive and abrupt. Zoom and Peloton are down sharply this morning, while Uber and Lyft are soaring. Indeed, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 indices are up around 4.8% and 3.3% respectively, while SaaS and cloud share are off 3.5%.

Investors are taking money out of companies that were expected to do well thanks to the pandemic and moving that capital into firms that were weakened by the pandemic.

Our question for this morning: what do these changes mean for the economic forces that have broadly favored venture-backed startups? What happens to high-flying startups if the pandemic trade flips? What’s next for insurtech, edtech, fintech and SaaS? Let’s discuss.

Hot sectors, warm futures?

Short-term market movements do not always predict the future accurately, so we should not treat today’s trading as gospel.

That said, it’s not hard to draw some basic conclusions from the trading activity. Here’s what I think we can deduce from today’s stock market activity:

  • Corporate software spend growth will slow: The broad decline in the value of software companies today appears to indicate that investors expect slower growth in the future. This is especially sharp in companies boosted by the pandemic itself, and, it appears, less acute in companies that were less helped by the COVID-19 economy. Our read? Investors are betting that growth amongst the companies that most benefited from a switch to remote work, for example, will see the greatest deceleration from recent forecasts. For startups, the lesson here is plain. Go look at your public comps and consider your own valuation likely trading along similar lines.