When the Market Reopens: What to Expect After Hurricane Sandy

The New York Stock Exchange and other major U.S. markets are scheduled to reopen Wednesday after a two day hiatus—the first multi-day weather-related closure since the blizzard of 1888 and the first unscheduled closure since the September 11, 2011 terror attacks.

With much of the East Coast a wreck, what should we expect when trading resumes tomorrow?

Expect a wild ride.  Investors have a lot of information to digest, and two days’ worth of pent-up trading to do.

First to consider are the direct costs of the storm—the obvious damage done to homes, businesses and infrastructure of the Eastern seaboard.  Early estimates run the gamut.  Corelogic estimates that 284,000 homes valued at $88 billion were at risk, but this is a worst-case scenario.   Morgan Stanley estimates losses in the range of $5 billion to $10 billion to be picked up by insurance companies (as a point of reference, Hurricanes Irene and Katrina had insured losses of $7 billion and $62 billion, respectively).  Uninsured losses are harder to estimate but are significant to the households and businesses affected.

But more significant than the direct costs—which are largely offset by insurance proceeds—are the indirect costs of lost business and the psychological trauma to consumer confidence.  There are new TVs not purchased, flights not taken and restaurant meals not eaten by the 60 million Americans affected, let alone wages and tips not paid by those who miss work.  These are impossible to accurately gauge, but estimates  are in the ballpark of $10 billion per day.  Depending on how long it takes to get New York’s subway back on line, that number could get a lot higher or the length of time could be stretch a lot longer.

All of this brings us back to the stock market.  What should we expect when the market opens?

Over the next week, I expect stocks to drift lower in choppy trading as hurricane news continues to roll in.  Insurance stocks and construction related stocks will see the most speculation.

But ultimately, I expect investor preoccupation to shift relatively quickly back to earnings, the U.S. presidential election and the looming fiscal cliff.  Natural disasters—even big ones—usually do not correspond to major market shifts.  They create a lot of speculation and volatility in the immediate term, but the market generally gets back to whatever trend was in place before the disaster hit.

In our case today, U.S. stocks were going through a mild correction after a spectacular bull run.  By next week, I expect that we will be back to business as usual.

In the meantime, use any volatility as an opportunity to add to your core holdings.  If you liked it before as a long-term holding, chances are good that nothing has changed.  I am particularly looking for any weakness in high-end consumer stocks.  I see no lasting effects on luxury demand and advise buying on any dips.  Some names to consider: luxury goods sellers Coach (NYSE:$COH) and LVMH (Pink: LVMUY) and luxury automaker Daimler (Pink: DDAIF).

Again, not to make light of Frankenstorm or its aftermath; Sandy will make herself felt when GDP results are announced for the fourth quarter.  And the damage done is a major destruction of national wealth.

But fixing the damage and rebuilding will also be a source of growth over the next year and a much-needed jolt to the economy.

For now, it’s a matter of waiting for the flood waters to recede.



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