|In the United States alone, 80 million sick and 16 million dead. This is the worst case scenario if human-to-human avian flu hits the U.S and they are unable to produce an effective vaccine rapidly enough to make a difference. There is no certainty that that such a virus will mutate and spread, but it is the absolute uncertainty that will very probably cause wobbles in coming months, the traditionally jumpy autumn season.
The extreme economic consequences are being increasingly aired in the media. Two to three months when the world stops, millions afraid to go to work, house prices collapse, bankruptcies soar. Even if there is a just short term hiatus, commodities are a particularly vulnerable asset class (oil, copper and gold being those still riding relatively high), being most exposed to growth grinding to a halt in Asia.
As billions of dollars are pumped into limiting global terror threats (some very real, others imagined), it does no harm to reflect on how much is being committed to dealing with the threat of an avian flu pandemic, remembering that many biologists now believe that in 1918-19 one third of the world population caught flu, and of those 100 million died.
Cambodia is an overwhelmingly rural economy, with a skeletal infrastructure. In many areas raising chickens is not just a way of life and important source of protein in diets, but also a source of barter payment for major purchases. If the avian flu does mutate it can develop unseen footholds in such places. Education is key, yet Cambodia’s chief flu-hunter has an emergency budget for educating his country’s 13 million people about the dangers of bird flu of just $2,500.
Volunteers go around villages on motorcycles, with battered loudspeakers tied to pillion seats, warning people to keep away from dead birds. Meantime foreign donors were asked to give $56 million to enable the trial to go ahead for former leaders of Khmer Rouge.
It s not all bad news. A short term hiatus could create some interesting buying opportunities through the Autumn if there are indiscriminate share price falls. So, if you can, keep some powder dry, as, to paraphrase Shakespeare, it’s an ill bird that might blow someone some good.