Pandemic-fueled companies are finding the new reality hard to swallow

Companies that rode COVID-driven demand for their products during the first years of the pandemic are seeing their fortunes come back to Earth. Whether some of the biggest names in the cohort have a next act is becoming an open question.

Even more, could it be that companies that fell out of favor due to COVID-induced shifts in the economy are best prepared to excel this year?

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It’s never fun to sit around and list bad news. But the tally is starting to pile up: Today’s value of Robinhood, the consumer equities and crypto trading service boosted by the pandemic’s savings and investing boom, is worth just over $10 per share, far from its 52-week high of $85 per share. Coinbase, another company that saw demand for its fintech trading services soar during COVID, is worth just over $130 per share today, sharply lower than its $368.90 per-share 52-week high.

The list goes on: Instacart’s growth is slowing after a torrid period of expansion, leading to a valuation reset at the company. And recently, the Financial Times reported that the value of Hopin’s stock is off sharply on secondary exchanges, and some externally visible data could hint at a demand decline. The company executed layoffs earlier this year.

Seeing a rush of growth is never unwelcome at companies. And such a boom is especially coveted by companies usually valued more on growth than profitability. (Startups, in other words.)

That which has gone up is, it seems, coming down. Let’s talk about it.

Risk tolerance

The global economy is taking hits from many sides at once. Inflation concerns in some markets are stacked against growth woes in others. Geopolitical tensions are running high as the United States and China spar over trade and hot-button issues like the right of Taiwan to self-govern. Russia is busy digging into a quagmire in Ukraine, disrupting the energy market while supply chains creak and jam — not to mention the catastrophic loss of life. COVID lockdowns in China are also causing fears of more supply snarls, or worse.

The ebullient mood of late 2020 and most of 2021 this is not. And startups seeing their growth rates decelerate as their pandemic-led boom in demand fades, therefore taking stick twice at once.