Warren Buffett gets cancer. Stock market yawns. Steve Jobs gets cancer. Stock market yawns. Jamie Dimon? We’ll see.


JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. (Getty Images)

On Tuesday, JP Morgan chief executive Jamie Dimon announced his membership is an exclusive club: famous CEOs with cancer.

Dimon joins other business luminaries diagnosed with cancer while on the job, including Andy Grove of Intel, Steve Jobs of Apple and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway.

News of an ailing CEO often produces a headline to explain a move in the market. But a look at the stock prices of Intel, Apple and Berkshire seems to show the market just doesn’t care that much about a sick captain at the helm.

Writing for Fortune in 1996, Grove announced he’d been treated for prostate cancer. His article was a technical discussion of his medical treatment that barely alluded to his business.

Intel’s share price mirrored Grove’s nonchalance. The stock rose more than 10 percent the month his piece appeared.

Jobs’s disclosure of his cancer treatment was more fraught. As ABC’s detailed timeline of Jobs’s diagnosis and treatment shows, the Apple founder could be as secretive about his health as he was about iPods. “Every time he sneezes, shares of Apple catch a cold,” the Atlantic wrote in 2009.

While the price of AAPL did fluctuate with Jobs’s health and physical appearance, this seems an overstatement. When Jobs first announced he had been treated pancreatic cancer in August 2004, the price of Apple shares was up by the end of that month. In 2011, the same thing happened after Jobs died.

After Jobs and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg — who is only 30 — it’s hard to think of a CEO more closely identified with his company than Buffett. And the 83-year-old sage of Omaha has been running the company since the 1960s, when Jobs was a child.

But when Buffett announced he had prostate cancer in April 2012, the share price of the highly valued Berkshire stock didn’t move much — from $122,693.00 at the beginning of April to $122,185.00 in May.

These numbers imply that CEOs with cancer may not be as much of a problem for business as histrionic commentators imply.

Disclaimers:

1. Cancers are different — some treatable, some not.

2. The way a company’s chief decides to disclose their condition — Jobs’s secrecy vs. Buffett’s transparency — may make a difference. Grove and Jobs didn’t even mention their cancers until they were treated.

3. When a CEO gets cancer, reaction may depend on what a company does. Jobs was the visionary leader of a revolutionary technology company. Buffett is, at heart, a skilled stock picker.

4. This sample size is small. A lot of CEOs get cancer — and their businesses presumably react much differently.

As for JP Morgan, Bloomberg reported that Dimon’s cancer diagnosis might even be a useful “fire drill” for the company, according to one financial manager.

As of early Wednesday, JP Morgan is down a mere .64 percent in after-hours trading. Sure, the stock could make a big move after the bell. If it does, crow will be eaten.

But we’re betting crow is not on the menu.

 

Justin Wm. Moyer is a reporter for The Washington Post's Morning Mix. Follow him on Twitter: @justinwmmoyer.

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Nick Kirkpatrick · July 2, 2014