Eleven months ago, I was recovering from Hurricane Jeanne. I was without power for days, and the sole thought that kept running through my mind was, "When will everything return to normal?" It's a good question for investors to ask, and the answer might surprise you.
Last year's Florida hurricane season was an education for me. The eye wall for Jeanne, a mere Category 3 storm when it made landfall, passed within 15 miles of my home. I didn't see it, but a tornado probably explains how several mature oak trees -- a line of them extending for more than a quarter of a mile -- were snapped or uprooted, and how a portion of the cap on the tile roof of my home was sent sideways and flying. I watched the strong winds twist and turn a giant tree until it snapped 6 feet above ground. To say the least, it was not fun to see my home investment being devalued by Mother Nature.
There were, of course, beneficiaries of my damage -- the local Lowe's
Now, it's easy to see the short-term impact of storm damage on these companies, as well as the strain it may place on others. For example, last week a storm-damaged limb broke off a neighbor's oak and took out the power in my neighborhood. The folks from TECO Energy
But what investors might not anticipate from such natural disasters as Hurricane Katrina are the long-term effects on their companies. It's worth noting that, according to weather watchers, big storms could hit with increased frequency and magnitude.
Regulated businesses such as utilities may have trouble getting rate increases passed to recover the costs of storm repairs and, further, might find themselves subject to such costs on a recurring basis -- though we'd be hard-pressed to estimate the actual costs. Regional businesses might feel a crunch as storms limit capacity and increase their repair costs, particularly if the storms hit on a regular and more frequent basis.
So, should you sell hurricane-battered stocks? Not solely on the basis of how hard the storms hit them, though investors should pay close attention to the damage they do suffer. Provided that costs don't have a material effect on stocks such as TECO, though, I think things are in decent shape. Take a look at the chart for TECO, and note that it has risen nicely, even in the aftermath of last year's hurricanes. Meanwhile, although business has been brisk in Florida, the overall impact on the stocks of Home Depot and Lowe's has been anything but spectacular -- though a longer-term shift might serve to pad these companies' pockets.
It seems that in this case, the question is whether the sort of hurricanes we've recently seen represents a broader shift in climactic conditions or whether they're isolated events. Investors should keep alert for the answer and alter their investment strategies accordingly.
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