The havoc being wreaked by Hurricane Sandy is likely to be widespread, and the tab to pay for the damages will be high. While there are going to be industries that will be damaged by the storm's winds, not everyone will suffer. Indeed, others should benefit over the long haul, and investors may want to consider the possibilities.
A blackout on gains
Expect insurers to bear the brunt of the storm as they pay out claims for wind and water damage. Many streets along New Jersey's coastline lived up to their name -- e.g., Ocean Avenue -- while inlets and bays joined the sea. One picture making the rounds showed a shark swimming on a flooded residential street.
Insurers with significant exposure to the East Coast will likely see their shares drop. With analysts estimating damages could run north of $6 billion, Travelers (NYSE:TRV), Allstate, and Chubb face the greatest threat since they're the most exposed, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley.
While some insurers like Allstate have cut back on writing policies on the East Coast precisely because of hurricanes, they still have a significant number of policies in force, even if they buy reinsurance policies to protect themselves.
Fill 'er up!
With more than 7 million without power, prolonged outages will undoubtedly also weigh on quarterly results of businesses that rely heavily on customer traffic. Quick-serve restaurants like McDonald's and Dunkin' Brands could feel the effects, but because of their broad footprint and the blackouts being somewhat random (I just picked up two large pumpkin coffees from the local shop on my way to a Wi-Fi spot because my power's out), they might not be affected as much as fast-casual places like Chipotle Mexican Grill or Panera Bread, which don't seem to have a restaurant on every corner. One coffee shop might be out, but another down the road will pick up the extra business.
Retailers could also see sales fall as patrons are forced indoors or to keep a tighter check on their spending until they assess the damage. Mall operators like Simon Property Group probably won't suffer nearly as much as their tenants, like anchor store Macy's, though troubled retailers like Coldwater Creek and Pacific Sunwear could see additional financial pressures brought to bear.
Rebuilding the future
So if these are the losers -- and keep in mind it's going to be a transitory problem with an impact that will last one quarter at most -- who are the winners?
I'd look to the big-box warehouses like Home Depot (NYSE:HD) and Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) to show brisk new business and maybe trickle down benefits to lumber producers like Louisiana-Pacific and Weyerhauser. Lumber Liquidators will certainly see an uptick in sales as homeowners replace damaged floors, while Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE:BRK-B) Shaw Industries and Mohawk Industries will likely see a lot of people pulling up waterlogged carpeting.
To the list I'd add generator manufacturers like Generac (NYSE:GNRC) and Briggs & Stratton, which will be reporting sales spiking ahead of the storm (my generator allowed my family to enjoy a few creature comforts during the height of the storm's pummeling).
Yet as with the potential losers from Hurricane Sandy, I wouldn't put too much stock in the winners, either, because the gains will be short-lived. The short-term spikes won't matter if the company's not an otherwise solid investment, just as a brief drop in sales at a strong company will hardly be remembered five years down the road.
Do you really think the storm will have any lasting impact on McDonald's ability to sell coffee and burgers years hence? Me neither, so long-term investors should ignore all the sound and fury of the storm's impact other than to watch for potential buying opportunities from all the lemmings who do run over the cliff after sales get pinched.
Rich Duprey owns shares of Lowe's. The Motley Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Lumber Liquidators, McDonald's, Panera Bread, Pacific Sunwear, and Weyerhaeuser. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Berkshire Hathaway, Chipotle Mexican Grill, The Home Depot, Lumber Liquidators, Lowe's, McDonald's, Panera Bread, and Pacific Sunwear. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.