October 20, 2014 / 11:27 PM / 3 years ago

Ebola fear factor subsides in U.S. financial markets

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Investors should expect more calm to return to U.S. equity markets after some of the most volatile trading since 2012 as the 21-day incubation period for Ebola passes for many in Texas without new infections.

The market's big losses last week were largely attributed to concerns over global growth and plummeting oil prices. But fears that Ebola could spread in the United States after three people in Dallas were diagnosed with the hemorrhagic fever added more than a little froth to the market's recent convulsions.

By Monday, however, it was evident that investors were growing more sanguine over the Ebola threat as 43 people who came into contact with an Ebola-infected patient in Dallas cleared the 21-day incubation period for the virus.

"It was a short-term scare," said Howard Simons, president of Rosewood Trading in Chicago.

Several of the stocks that got hit hardest by the fear - including airlines and hotels - bounced back sharply on Monday. Just as notably, several stocks that rode the scare higher, such as hazmat suit maker Lakeland Industries Inc (LAKE.O) and Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp TKMR.O, which is testing a drug to treat the virus, fell by more than 30 percent over the past three sessions after rising over 200 percent.

"Anybody who's buying some sort of panic-related stock paid too much and that's that," Simons said. "You do stupid things; you lose money."

Panic over a possible Ebola outbreak in the United States escalated after a Liberian man became the first person in the United States diagnosed with the virus on Sept. 30. Two of the nurses caring for him, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, also contracted the virus, and Vinson flew on a commercial flight one day before she was diagnosed.

A cruise ship was denied docking by Belize and Mexico last week because a Texas hospital lab worker on board might have come in contact with test samples from the Liberian man, who died on Oct. 8. The worker has tested negative for the virus.

KEEPING AN EYE ON THE CALENDAR

The relatively long incubation period for the disease is prompting a focus on the calendar, with early November being seen as a likely time for an all-clear for the United States as long as no new cases emerge.

A person can become infected with Ebola up to 21 days after initial exposure to the virus. About 260 people in Texas and Ohio are still being monitored.

"Going into the market today, there seemed to be somewhat of an easing of Ebola tension," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago.

"While it certainly was a contributor to volatility and concern, we did have some easing both in Dallas and on the cruise ship. I think some of those fears have subsided a little bit."

Shares of Lakeland fell 12 percent on Monday and 37 percent in the past three sessions, following a 248 percent gain in the seven-session period to last Monday.

Alpha Pro Tech (APT.A), which makes disposable protective apparel, fell 47 percent in the past three sessions. In the five sessions to last Monday, it had gained 219 percent.

Tekmira Pharmaceuticals traded earlier this month almost 240 percent above the July low of $8.86. On Monday, it lost 14.5 percent to $18.61.

On the flipside, airliner and cruise ship shares have bounced back. American Airlines (AAL.O) rose as much as 26 percent from a nine-month low hit last week and the Dow Jones Transportation Average .DJT rose nearly 7 percent from a five-month low hit Wednesday.

In a reassuring sign that U.S. hospitals can contain the virus, Emory University Hospital in Atlanta said late Monday an American who was flown in from West Africa and treated for Ebola there since Sept. 9 has been released after being found free of the virus.

The worst Ebola outbreak on record has killed more than 4,500 people, most of them in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

As more people with possible exposure end their quarantines anxiety over Ebola will "fade into the background in a hurry," said Simons of Rosewood Trading.

"The public has a short memory."

Additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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