Who's Getting Rich Off Of Ebola?

October 27th 2014

Alex Mierjeski

It’s no secret that the Ebola coverage in the media lately has been a bit, well, over-hyped. Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced late last month that Thomas Eric Duncan tested positive for the disease—the first person to be diagnosed in the U.S.—coverage has been plagued with hyperbole. 

Stories of panic and confusion have percolated up through various news sites across the country, contributing to a culture of fear as toxic as the disease itself. The media coverage and national concern it can sway seems to ebb and flow with the tide of new cases. After Duncan’s case, and those of the few nurses that contracted Ebola from him, died down, hysteria seemed to relax. 

But late Thursday night, officials announced that a New York City doctor had tested positive after being admitted to a hospital there, likely setting off a whole new wave of panic. 

While it’s safe to say that hysteria does no one much good, for some, the hype has fanned both fears and profits in an uncomfortably tethered manner. From drug companies to hedge funds, here are some of the people standing to profit from the Ebola outbreak. 

Drug Companies 

This category is by far the largest and most obvious  standing to make a quick buck. And in many ways, this scenario is nothing new for the industry; when someone falls ill, the person possessing the remedy calls the shots.

So when Duncan’s case was introduced, the market reacted in what one might assume to be a classic—if depressing—way. The stocks followed the fears onward and upward

But when Duncan died in a Dallas hospital on October 8th, two things happened that illustrate how this unique form of competitive business can play out, and how companies and investors could stand to profit from the continued spread of Ebola. 

Tekmira, one of the many companies that make experimental Ebola treatment drugs, saw its stock value jump almost five percent in less than an hour after the announcement. Conversely, Chimerix stock, a rival company whose product was used to treat Duncan, dropped by nearly ten points in the same time period.

It’s important to remember that drug companies like Tekmira, Chimerix, Sarepta, and BioCryst make products that hope  to stymie progression of the virus in patients and the surrounding populations. Experiments, yes, but when health officials began testing the companies’ drugs, investors saw opportunity, and that very public battle has been “driving greed in some corners of the stock market,” according to CNNMoney.

Protective Garments Companies    

When reports of the New York City doctor’s case trickled in, another sector of the preventative goods market saw a stock surge after a low period driven down when the CDC cleared a host of potential Ebola patients

Protective gear companies like Lakeland Industries and Alpha Pro saw notable turnarounds almost immediately. “The Ebola trade is back,” declared Business Insider

For example, Lakeland’s value jumped as much as 11 percent in the stock market following the reports. The company and others like it, which manufactures protective gear, like the white and yellow hazmat suits and face masks ubiquitous in photographs of Ebola treatment facilities, have seen their stocks fluctuate in lock-step with Ebola fears in the U.S. But much like with the drug companies, when a new case surfaces, the flames are stoked. With greater fears comes greater need for reliable protections.

Hedge Funds

Some of the more far-flung potential moneymakers in the Ebola scare are hedge funds betting on certain markets with the potential for rising prices due to Ebola-related shortages. 

One somewhat surprising documented case so far has been the cocoa market. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer, exporting 37.8 percent of the world’s cocoa. Although there are no confirmed cases so far in the country, its neighbors—Liberia and Guinea—have been the hardest hit areas, along with Sierra Leone. 

Along with Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria make up an estimated 70 percent of the world’s cocoa. The fear is that if Ebola makes its way across borders, it will disrupt the industry in a tangible way. If cocoa workers become infected, that could affect the ability of those countries to operate successfully during the harvest season, which runs from October to March. As a result, exporters in Ivory Coast “are making all efforts to ship cocoa from the country as soon as it is available,” according to the International Cocoa Organization. 

So far, Ebola fears have pushed up cocoa prices 13.4 percent since the start of the year, leaving potential for more and causing hedge fund investors to see potential dollar signs. And as the Los Angeles Times points out, this could pose similar threats to other commodities markets, like gold, in West African countries that have not yet been hit with the disease.