May 19, 2024

Businesses Await Price Tag of Hurricane Sandy

Even as businesses struggled on Monday to gauge and contain the damage from Hurricane Sandy’s slow move up the East Coast, economists played down the likely long-term effects. The recovery after the storm, they said, could actually pump up growth temporarily in a few sectors, like construction and retail sales, when cleanup begins in earnest in a few days.

Immediately, though, the focus was on just how long it would take for business to resume as financial markets, department stores, and most big companies announced plans to close Tuesday for the second day in a row. Unlike some hurricanes that blew through in a day, Hurricane Sandy was projected to linger over the Northeast for much of the week, broadening the short-term fallout.

Over all, economic losses from the storm could range from $10 billion to $20 billion, according to an analysis by Eqecat, a firm that performs catastrophe risk modeling for the insurance industry and government. On that scale, big insurers might account for $5 billion to $10 billion in losses.

“We think it’s going to be big,” said Tom Larsen, senior vice president and product architect at Eqecat, suggesting the toll could fall somewhere between that of Hurricane Ike in 2008 and Hurricane Irene last year. “Broad areas are going to be subject to high winds for a longer period of time than in a normal Category 1 storm.”

Of course, some sectors will be hurt more than others. A study last year by the Global Business Travel Association estimated that a typical Category 3 hurricane on the East Coast could reduce spending on business travel by just under $700 million.

Hurricane Sandy was a Category 1 storm, which is significantly less powerful than a Category 3 hurricane, but its extended stay throughout the East Coast could actually result in higher losses than the study found, said Joseph Bates, the association’s vice president for research.

“The scenario we looked at only had an impact of one day,” he said. “This storm is going to last at least three days.”

Besides the halt in electronic and floor trading in virtually all Wall Street financial markets Monday and Tuesday, several prominent companies delayed scheduled announcements.

Pfizer, the big drug maker, put off its third-quarter earnings report until Thursday, while Thomson Reuters and NRG Energy delayed their reports until Friday.

Google canceled an event planned for Monday to introduce a new smartphone, the Nexus 4, as well as several new tablets, all aimed at the holiday shopping season. Facebook also called off an event showcasing its new Gifts platform, which had been set to take place at F.A.O. Schwarz in Manhattan on Thursday.

Major retailers began closing New York stores on Sunday afternoon.

Saks Fifth Avenue boarded up its flagship store in Manhattan, a striking image for a retailer known for its high-fashion windows.

“We have taken the necessary precautions in each store to protect our property and limit damage,” said a spokeswoman, Julia Bentley, in an e-mail. Saks closed stores in nine other locations from Maryland to Boston.

On Monday, about 130 of the 850 Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s stores nationwide were closed, said a spokesman, Jim Sluzewski.

“We’re not selling generators or bottled water or any of those sorts of items, so given that much of what we sell is discretionary, it’s not as big of an issue for our customers,” he said.

Sears Holdings had closed 115 stores as of midday Monday, and was monitoring the storm to see where to send generators for stores in case power went out, said a spokesman, Tom Aiello. Among Sears shoppers, tools and generators were popular items, while at the company’s Kmart unit, blankets, food and water were selling well, Mr. Aiello said.

Stephanie Clifford, Clifford Krauss and Stephanie Strom contributed reporting.

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