Key Points

  • Harvey will sit on top of the costliest hurricanes, and now has Irma in its coattails.
  • Hurricanes' impact on economy tends to be felt most acutely in unemployment claims.
  • "Harma" will unlikely dent the Fed's plans to continue monetary policy normalization.

Our hearts go out to everyone affected by Harvey and now Irma. I did little over the weekend except sit glued to the TV watching Hurricane Irma coverage. That's because I have a home in Naples, FL, on one of the southern intercoastal waterways. As of the writing of this, I have no idea how our home fared. My fingers are crossed (which could lead to typos).

Of course, before Irma unleashed her wrath, Houston got battered by Harvey; and last week the questions started coming in about Harvey’s economic and/or market impact.

Needless to say, the U.S. economy is massive and diverse, making it a tricky task to "unpack" a prior natural disaster's impact for the purpose of forecasting the impact from Harvey/Irma (perhaps we should collectively call them "Harma").

Limited stock market impact likely

As you can see in the table below, more often than not, the market did not suffer sustained losses following the six costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. The one exception was in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike in 2008. Clearly though, there was another powerful storm happening at the time—the global financial crisis—which easily gets the blame for the market’s carnage.

Price change table after hurricanes

Source: Ned Davis Research, Inc. (Further distribution prohibited without prior permission. Copyright 2017© Ned Davis Research, Inc. All rights reserved.)

From an industry perspective (hat tip to Strategas Research Partners), following the 10 costliest U.S. hurricanes, the most consistent beneficiaries in the subsequent three-to-12 months were:

  • Professional Services
  • Construction & Engineering
  • Road & Rail
  • Real Estate

The most consistent losers in the same period were:

  • Diversified Consumer Services
  • Auto Components
  • Thrifts & Mortgage Finance
  • Health Care Technology
  • Real Estate Management & Development

Harvey more costly, but less impactful than Katrina

Evercore ISI does some of the most comprehensive company surveys out there. Their data in the post-Harvey period shows that although Harvey's cost will be greater than Katrina's (see below), it hasn't had the same national impact. And Houston's mayor, Sylvester Turner, recently noted: "Most of the city is now dry. Houston is open for business. The water system is safe. The transit and airport systems are both up and running."

Moving on to the economy more broadly, the hits have come quickly in areas like unemployment claims; but tend to be a bit more spread out in overall gross domestic product (GDP). It will admittedly be difficult to discern whether any negative economic reports are a result of the storms’ damage and then whether stronger reports owe to the effects of recovery/rebuilding. But I would expect inflation to lift a bit in the near term, especially given Harvey-related refinery disruptions.

Harvey on pace to be #1

The three costliest hurricanes in U.S. history were Katrina ($49.8b), Andrew ($24.5b) and Sandy ($19.9b). Based on preliminary estimates, Harvey will usurp Katrina at the top of the list, with estimates running as high as $100b. It's way too early to get a sense of the damage associated with Irma, but Munich Re estimates losses of between $20-30b, putting it in the top-five.

© 2017 Charles Schwab & Co.

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