The effect of the highly talked-about Hurricane Irma was weaker than feared in Florida, but the level of destruction was still pretty high. The cost of the storm varies from analyst to analyst. As per The Guardian, "the economic cost of Hurricane Irma could rise as high as $300 billion" as it ravaged homes, businesses and farms on its way up.
Insured losses from Hurricane Irma are projected from $20 billion to $65 billion, according to risk modelling companies, as per an article published on Financial Times. On the other hand, the AccuWeather founder, President and Chairman Dr. Joel N. Myers "estimated that Hurricane Harvey is to be the costliest weather disaster in U.S. history at $190 billion or one full percentage point of the GDP."
Damage estimate caused by Irma is expected to be about $100 billion, or 0.5 percentage point of total GDP. AccuWeather estimates these two disasters (Harvey and Irma) will account for about 1.5 of a percentage point of the GDP.
That said, let's discuss the key areas that call for attention right now for profits or losses.
Gasoline: Helped by Harvey, Marred by Irma
Harvey has thumped a quarter of oil production from the Gulf of Mexico and a substantial portion of the U.S. refining capacity. Lower demand from refineries put pressure on crude oil prices and ETFs like the United States Oil ETF (NYSEARCA:USO). However, demand for finished product gasoline rose, benefiting the United States Gasoline ETF (NYSEARCA:UGA). As crack spread rose, the VanEck Vectors Oil Refiners ETF (NYSEARCA:CRAK) gained.
However, Irma weighed on natural gas futures by cutting demand from power plants, and will likely hurt oil and refined products' prices by obstructing shipments to the nation's third-largest gasoline market. It quashed power to 3.3 million customers, brought tanker traffic to a halt and shut about 6,000 gasoline stations. The United States Natural Gas ETF (NYSEARCA:UNG) was off 2.7% on September 8, and CRAK lost 0.2%.
Agriculture ETFs to Rule Ahead?
First, Harvey washed away the largest U.S. cotton producer, drenching extra supplies stored on fields by many Texas farmers. Then, Irma may ruin Florida's farmlands, ravaging $1.2 billion worth of fresh tomatoes, oranges, green beans, squash and sugar cane. After impacting the eastern coast of Florida, Irma is expected to shift to Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina - states famous for cotton, grain and livestock, as per CNBC.
Needless to say, against this backdrop, the iPath Pure Beta Livestock ETN (NYSEARCA:LSTK), the PowerShares DB Agriculture ETF (NYSEARCA:DBA), the iPath Pure Beta Cotton ETN (NYSEARCA:CTNN) and the Teucrium Sugar Fund (NYSEARCA:CANE) may be up for gains.
Can the Insurance Industry Survive the Storm?
With huge destruction in Texas and Florida, insured losses could be sky-high. Property and casualty insurance companies may be hit hard, as these are likely to shell out handsomely on claims in such catastrophic storms.
Florida was smashed in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm, slammed insurers with $15 billion and led to the failure of more than a dozen insurers. So, one can expect how heavy the impact on insurance companies would be this time around. The iShares U.S. Insurance ETF (NYSEARCA:IAK) will likely feel the brunt.
However, if rates rise in the coming days, insurance companies may get some cushion. Plus, the global reinsurance industry is oversupplied with capital. As of March, it had about $605 billion capital, thanks to fewer enormous natural disasters in the United States since 2005, as per the Wall Street Journal (see all Financial ETFs here).
Already, shares of property and casualty homeowners insurance companies like Universal Insurance Holdings Inc. (NYSEMKT:UVE) and HCI Group Inc. (NYSE:HCI) added about 8.9% and 2.7% on September 8. Reinsurers XL Group Ltd. (NYSE:XL) and Everest Re Group Ltd. (NYSE:RE) too added about 5.8% and 5%, respectively. This means that most of the sell-offs are overdone and priced in at the current level. Insurance companies' shares are recouping losses.
Home Retailers & Infrastructure in Sweet Spot
Rebuilding of homes and structures are necessary after a hurricane aftermath. Home Depot Inc. (NYSE:HD) and Lowe's Companies Inc. (NYSE:LOW) are thus in a bright spot. ETFs like the Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEARCA:XLY) and the PowerShares Dynamic Building & Construction Portfolio ETF (NYSEARCA:PKB) should also benefit.
A Boon for Auto Sales Too?
Repurchase of cars will gain traction now on higher replacing demand for damaged vehicles. The First Trust NASDAQ Global Auto Index ETF (NASDAQ:CARZ) can thus gain ahead.