Many of those hit hard in Texas may be out of luck when it comes to national flood insurance policy.
Hurricane Harvey continues to batter south-eastern Texas, and even though the storm has not yet reached its conclusion, analysts are already starting to speculate that the financial damage inflicted: make it one of the costliest disasters to hit the US ever. David Havens, an insurance analyst at Imperial Capital in New York, told Bloomberg has estimated that the cost of the damage could be as high as $100 billion. This compares with a loss worth $120 billion for hurricane Katrina and $75 billion of losses for Sandy in 2012.
Using inflation-adjusted figures, analysts at Morgan Stanley calculate that Hurricane Katrina in 2005 inflicted more than $160 billion of damage, more than four times the $40 billion they are predicting Harvey.
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As the storm is still ongoing, it’s impossible to put a definite figure on the final total just yet, but it’s clear that Harvey will be one of the top 10 most costly storms ever to hit the United States.
The economic impact of the disaster may be temporarily positive according to Morgan Stanley’s analysis. Specifically, the analysts note that the “effects of rebuilding homes and replacing motor vehicles” may provide a positive lift to GDP in the fourth quarter and beyond.
Previous storms provide a guide as to the economic impact. For example, Morgan’s analysts note that following hurricane Katrina, companies such as Home Depot and Lowe’s reported a rise in sales as a result of the cleanup and repair efforts. Wal-Mart, which was forced to close some 120 affected stores across the Gulf states, reported a decrease in sales within the affected areas but a rise in sales across the rest of the country related to relief aid.
With housing, following hurricane Sandy, starts of single family homes immediately declined by 6.9% but then the pace of starts spent “the next eight months playing catch-up with new and replacement demand before settling back to trend.” Sandy also provides a guide to auto sales. Following the storm in 2012, replacement needs drove vehicle sales of used car prices higher.
Most Victims Not Covered By National Flood Insurance
While there could be some short-term economic benefit from the rebuilding efforts, the fact that around two-thirds of the people affected by the disaster are uninsured will almost certainly hinder rebuilding efforts.
According to the New York Times, many people in eastern Texas have failed to buy coverage from the US National Flood Insurance Program or let their policies lapse because their property was not listed as being on a 100-year floodplain. Personal insurance policies tend to exclude flood cover, which is why the US National Flood Insurance Program exists for homeowners. Estimates vary as to how much insurers could be on the hook for. The Guardian reports that Edward Morris and Michael Huttner, insurance analysts at JPMorgan Cazenove believe losses could be “in the $10 billion to $20 billion range,” which is significant but still far below the initial total economic loss projections. Peel Hunt analyst Andreas van Embden estimates insured losses could be $12 billion.