Medical, biotech stocks jump after U.S. nurse contracts Ebola

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Shares of little-known medical equipment and biotech companies jumped on Wall Street on Monday, after news that a nurse had become the first person to contract the deadly Ebola virus in the United States.

Emergency vehicles are at the apartment of a health worker who has tested positive for Ebola in Dallas, Texas, October 12, 2014. REUTERS/Lisa Maria Garza

Airline stocks, meanwhile, were hit hard in a broad-market selloff on growing fears of the outbreak that has taken more than 4,000 lives, mostly in West Africa’s Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The S&P 500 lost 1.7 percent on Monday.

Shares of biotechnology company Ibio Inc IBIO.A, hazmat suits maker Lakeland Industries Inc LAKE.O, and face mask maker Alpha Pro Tech Ltd APT.A all ended the day with big gains.

Investors have piled into various companies that are either developing treatments for the disease or provide protective gear. Trading volumes have been on the rise, and the market values of some once-obscure names have soared in the span of a few days.

“The spider’s web of companies that are beneficiaries of an Ebola outbreak are becoming visible to portfolio managers,” said Paul Weisbruch, vice president of ETF and options sales and trading at Street One Financial. “It’s not like buying a vaccine that might work. There’s something more tangible with someone who supplies hazmat suits.”

On Sunday, health officials announced that a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas became the first person to contract Ebola in the United States. The nurse had treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian national who two weeks ago was the first person in the United States diagnosed with the hemorrhagic fever. Duncan died last week.

Not every sector has benefited. Concern about travel safety has slammed airline shares; the Thomson Reuters U.S. Airline Index has cratered in the last month, dropping 17 percent in the past 17 trading days. It lost 6 percent on Monday, led by a 7.3 percent drop in United Continental Holdings UAL.N.

“Ebola issues brought fear to the market,” said Rick Meckler, president of investment firm LibertyView Capital Management in Jersey City, New Jersey. “The widening of the Ebola crisis and a second infected person in Dallas have had a bigger (market) impact on the travel industry.”

Lakeland was up 47 percent to $28.85 a share after soaring 125 percent last week. Its market value has almost quintupled in the last month, reaching about $161 million from $34 million a month ago.

The myriad headlines related to Ebola “could certainly bring a lot of these smaller and mid-cap pharmaceutical and equipment (maker) names to life,” Weisbruch said.

Alpha Pro Tech rose 35 percent, as its trading volume soared. Until a few days ago it was a lightly traded stock, with 10,000 to 50,000 shares traded daily. On Monday, more than 36 million shares changed hands. Alpha Pro’s shares jumped 129 percent last week.

Ibio Inc rose 65 percent to $2.45 a share on 50 million shares traded, the busiest day in its history, after news last week that the company might play a role in expanding production of the experimental Ebola drug, ZMapp. The shares on Friday surged 83 percent. Before Friday, a total of 59 million shares had traded all year.

Ebola drugmaker Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp TKM.TOTKMR.O, whose shares had seen huge spikes earlier this year on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, were higher on Monday, rising 3.9 percent to $23.69.

Reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb, additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Tom Brown