A worsening in the Ebola epidemic could have “significant implications” for some commodity markets and mining companies, Deutsche Bank has warned, as deaths from the killer virus top 3,300.
According to the World Health Organization, over 7,000 people across West Africa have contracted Ebola since the epidemic began in December 2013, with Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone all affected. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned last month that between 550,000 and 1.4 million people could be infected by January 2015.
To date, the outbreak has not seriously impacted commodity markets or mining companies in West Africa, despite the region’s importance as a producer of energy, metals and agricultural products.
However, the potential threats from a deepening in the crisis should be assessed, Deutsche Bank said in a note published Thursday—particularly if the virus spreads across borders to Mali and Cote d’Ivoire and further afield into Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
“We believe the effect of the outbreak on global commodity balances, as well as the individual operations of mining companies must be considered seriously,” said analysts led by Anna Mulholland in the report.
“A more widespread outbreak to other countries in the region would hold significant implications for cocoa production,” Mulholland wrote.
FTSE 100-listed Randgold Resources is among the companies most exposed to any escalation in the outbreak, according to Deutsche. The gold mining company’s production is entirely focused on West and Central Africa.
Other companies seen as vulnerable include Nordgold and AngloGold Ashanti, which both have gold mines in Guinea.
Some companies, such as Vedanta, have evacuated expat employees from the affected countries. Exxon Mobil announced on Thursday that it had banned employees from traveling to the worst hit areas, adding that the disease had disrupted its operations in West Africa, including plans to drill off the shore of Liberia.
The outbreak is also hitting local economies, curtailing labor mobility around the region and leading to panic buying and food shortages.
“Given the risks of disruptions to grain harvests that are just beginning, a further acceleration in food inflation is probable,” warned Mulholland.
Given the poverty of those countries worst hit by Ebola, food inflation also poses social and political risks.
“As we have seen in other parts in the world, significant increases in food inflation can pose challenges to the stability of governments particularly where food purchases constitute more than 80 percent of a household’s expenditures,” said Mulholland.
Ebola is transmitted by bodily fluids, with symptoms including fever, vomiting, diarrhea and hemorrhage. Just under 50 percent of patients have died in the current epidemic, according to the World Health Organization.
On Thursday, an American cameraman reporting on the epidemic from Liberia was diagnosed with Ebola. Ashoka Mukpo, 33, was on assignment for CNBC sister-company NBC News and will be flown back to the U.S. for treatment.