Florence also expected to wreak financial havoc
The path of Hurricane Florence’s potential destruction runs right through markets from stocks to mortgage-backed securities.
The Category 4 storm — which is forcing more than 1 million people to flee to safety and could wreak as much as $27 billion in damages in the states of North Carolina and South Carolina — has already struck insurance stocks and funds holding catastrophe bonds as investors try to front run the possible disaster.
“The bottom line: it seems to be pretty serious,” Sid Ghosh, a senior analyst with Moody’s Investors Service, said of the storm. “Everybody is watching it, and so are we.”
Here are some of the markets that are most vulnerable to the impending storm:
Stocks: Should Hurricane Florence make landfall between South Carolina and Virginia, insurance companies could be on the hook as the storm could cause $15 billion to $20 billion in covered losses from wind and coastal storm surge. Insurance companies in the S&P 500 Index have underperformed the benchmark since Thursday.
Two insurance companies have a lot of business in Florence’s path: Allstate Corp. and Travelers Companies Inc., which are both down by more than 2 percent since the storm increased in intensity and focused on the Carolinas.
The $66 million Invesco KBW Property & Casualty Insurance ETF, ticker KBWP, has the most exposure to the insurers, with Allstate the second-largest holding and Travelers the fifth, making up a combined 15 percent of the fund. KBWP fell as much as 0.7 percent Tuesday after dropping 2 percent over the previous two sessions. The iShares U.S. Insurance ETF, ticker IAK, also has elevated exposure to the two insurers with both ranking in the top 10 holdings.
Another sector that could take a beating are utilities that serve the two states. Duke Energy Corp. and SCANA Corp. fell more than 2 percent over the last three days.
On the flip side, home-improvement retailers are seeing a storm-related boost. Home Depot Inc. and Lowe’s Cos. both rose Tuesday, extending gains for the fourth straight day. Generac Holdings Inc., which makes generators, gained more than 7 percent over the past two days, pushing the stock to the highest since 2014.
Catastrophe bonds: Catastrophe bonds are perhaps the most direct bet on the potential disaster: Insurers issue them to transfer risk of losses related to events like hurricanes to investors.
The Swiss Re Cat Bond Index, a widely-cited gauge for catastrophe bond performance, hasn’t moved on the news as it updates only on Fridays. The index suffered a decline of 16 percent last year during hurricane season that took about nine months to recoup. However, the benchmark hasn’t had a negative year in data going back 15 years.
But some mutual funds that invest in reinsurance products like catastrophe bonds are already feeling the impact of the storm. The $5.8 billion Stone Ridge Reinsurance Risk Premium Interval Fund fell 5.2 percent yesterday, its biggest one-day decline since last September when Hurricane Irma approached Florida. The fund provides regular payments to investors but can lose money if storm damage costs are too high.
Mortgage-backed securities: The collateral for more than $20 billion worth of loans bundled into securities are located in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, according to Morgan Stanley. Some $8.3 billion worth of property sits within 25 miles of the coastline. The last time a hurricane of this magnitude struck South Carolina, it caused $4.2 billion of insured losses, the bank said.