Hurricane Sandy may not be packing the fastest winds we've ever seen, but as a meteorology buff I can honestly say it's a monster of a storm, capable of directly affecting more than 50 million people with rain, snow, damaging winds, and storm surge.
Obviously, our first thoughts are for the safety and well-being of those of our friends and family that are on the East Coast and are affected by this gigantic storm.
From a financial perspective, once Sandy passes and people begin to return to their normal routines (or at least attempt to), we could be staring down losses that are easily higher than those from Hurricane Irene last year. Irene's total bill came to $5.3 billion, and given the wide damage path of Sandy, that could wind up being just a drop in the bucket. Businesses up and down the East Coast are being negatively affected by Sandy and could be in line for very large one-time losses related to the storm.
Here are five sectors that will be more than glad to show Sandy the door:
- Insurers: Yeah, I know, "Thanks, Captain Obvious!" Property and casualty insurers like Allstate (NYSE:ALL), Chubb, and Travelers could be in line to face substantial losses from Sandy if actual losses ascend past $5 billion, according to Gregory Locraft, a research analyst at Morgan Stanley. According to Locraft, global reinsurers also stand to lose a pretty penny if losses exceed $10 billion. Furthermore, with disasters running few and far between in 2010 and into early 2011, insurers have very little pricing power to boost premiums quickly to recoup their losses. This appears to be another checkmark against the property insurers.
- Restaurants: Believe it or not, don't count fast-food chains into the mix, as they tend to benefit when big storms are approaching, as people are often looking to fast-food as a time-saving quick fix. It's actually casual-dining restaurants that stand to lose the most because of Sandy. For a chain like Dunkin' Brands, which operates a good chunk of its stores in Sandy's path, the effect might be minimal given its strong financial performance to date. For Ruby Tuesday (NYSE:RT), which has been closing underperforming stores and has reported only one positive quarter of same-store sales comps in the past seven, the loss of business could be much more significant. Ruby Tuesday has around a third of its restaurants within Sandy's sights.
- Energy: Needless to say, I do not want to be a Consolidated Edison (NYSE:ED) employee over the next week or two! Early reports as of this writing show that roughly 670,000 people within New York are currently without power and Con Ed has been purposefully blacking out certain areas of New York so as to ensure a minimization of damage to certain electrical systems. Still, Con Ed and its employees are going to need to work at a feverish pace to return electricity to what could amount to more than 1 million persons. With outages that could last around a week in some places, Con Ed will definitely be relying on the "what could have been's" when earnings time hits.
- Airlines: Personally, I think the airlines are a disaster whether or not there's a hurricane -- but at least now they have a viable excuse. In total, 7,000 flights have been canceled due to the massive storm, with US Airways (UNKNOWN:LCC.DL) accounting for nearly 30% of those cancellations. Keep in mind that US Airways is one of the only airlines not to hedge its fuel costs, so while fuel prices have been slowly moving lower in its favor, this is likely to drag its results back into the red yet again. Even worse, airlines may be grounded even longer if public transportation to and from the affected surrounding airports isn't restored quickly due to flooding.
- Retailers: I know what you're thinking, and yes, some retailers did clean up heading into the storm. Hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowe's, grocers like Kroger and Safeway, and generator maker Generac, all benefited big-time from Sandy. Mall-based retailers, however, received a five-fingered slap across their face. Simon Property Group (NYSE:SPG) noted that it completely closed two of its big shopping centers, while other businesses simply chose not to open for business. Don't be surprised if we see the "Hurricane Sandy" clause trotted out a few times after the holiday season to describe subpar earnings results.
While these sectors will be more than glad to get rid of Hurricane Sandy, let's also not overreact to what is essentially an event unlikely to have a lingering effect on the economy. Remember that you're investing in businesses that have solid long-term potential and you shouldn't allow short-term events like Hurricane Sandy to disrupt your game plan. However, if your investment thesis remains unchanged and these sectors do indeed react lower, then you might wind up thanking Sandy in the end for the chance to buy companies on your Watchlist or in your portfolio at even cheaper prices.
Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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