An outbreak of African swine fever in China and other Asian nations could lead to higher pork prices. That would be bad news for fans of Chipotle's carnitas -- not to mention Chipotle investors.
BMO Capital markets analyst Andrew Strelzik downgraded Chipotle's stock to an "underperform" -- basically a sell -- due to worries that Chipotle will have to pay more for pork if the highly contagious and lethal (to pigs) African swine fever is not contained. That will hurt profits.
Chipotle (CMG) shares fell 6% on the news, but they are still up nearly 54% this year.
The good news for consumers is that the disease does not pose a risk to people, the way the E. coli outbreak at Chipotle in 2015 did. The United States Department of Agriculture says "ASF is not a threat to human health and cannot be transmitted from pigs to humans. It is not a food safety issue."
But Strelzik is concerned the outbreak will lead to a shortage in hog supplies that could have a ripple effect on the price of pork and other proteins for several years. As such, he estimated that Chili's owner Brinker International (EAT), Texas Roadhouse (TXRH) and Bloomin' Brands (BLMN) could also suffer. Their stocks all tumbled Thursday as well.
This might wind up being good news for plant-based food maker Beyond Meat (BYND) though. Its sizzling stock shot up about 3%.
Update: Laurie Schalow, the chief corporate reputation officer for Chipotle, took issue with Strelzik's downgrade.
"The cost of our pork represents less than 2% of Chipotle’s total food costs," Schalow told CNN Business. "Since we purchase higher quality, more expensive pork than commodity pork, and we have pricing agreements in place, we don’t expect a significant impact on our costs."