This one stock will signal whether the coronavirus situation is getting serious

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InterContinental Hotel in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Roberto Machado Noa | LightRocket | Getty Images

If investors want their finger on the pulse of the coronavirus threat, they can look no further than InterContinental Hotels Group.

The London-based hotel chain is largely exposed to threats to international travel. InterContinental’s Asia Pacific revenue was down 27% year-over-year in 2003, when the SARS virus swept China.

“IHG is the most exposed of the major Western hotel companies,” AB Bernstein analyst Richard Clarke said in a note to clients on Tuesday.

Shares of InterContinental Hotels fell more than 4% on Tuesday on fears that the coronavirus outbreak in China would dent international travel.

The outbreak of the new coronavirus in China has killed nine people with confirmed cases exceeding 400 ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, during which hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control told Reuters that a traveler from China was diagnosed with the first U.S. case of coronavirus in Seattle.

In 2003, InterContinental Hotels warned about the impact severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS would have on the hotel chain’s profit. Clarke said the SARS outbreak coincided with the threat and outbreak of the Iraq war, which also contributed to weakness in travel.

“More encouragingly, the SARS outbreak saw no headwinds to unit growth, with additions of 1,646 rooms in Greater China in 2003,” said Clarke.

Today, China makes up 8% of InterContinental’s earnings, according to AB Bernstein.

“IHG’s business model is materially more resilient today than in 2003, and the chances of a profit warning feel remote,” Clarke added.

While Clarke is less worried about the outbreak, billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones said Tuesday the coronavirus could be a “curveball” that derails in the bull market.

“If you look at what happened in 2003 … stock markets sold off double digits. If you look at the escalation of the reported cases, it feels a lot like that,” Jones said. “There’s no vaccination. There’s no cure. … If I was an investor, I’d be really nervous.”

InterContinental Hotels Group trades on the London Exchange but has an ADR, or American depositary receipt, that frequently trades on the U.S. stock exchange.

InterContinental reports full-year earnings results next month. AB Bernstein said the hotel group faces other headwinds, including weakness in Hong Kong and the fires in Australia.

— with reporting from CNBC’s Michael Bloom.

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