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A Somewhat Less Catastrophic Hurricane Irma Is Decent News for Markets

Investors had priced the worst-case scenario into stocks -- especially the big reinsurance companies.

In this segment from Market Foolery, host Chris Hill, Million Dollar Portfolio's Jason Moser, and Stock Advisor Canada's Taylor Muckerman look south to the swath of destruction left by Hurricane Irma. Though the storm was still over Florida when they spoke, it was clear at the very least that the most dire potential outcomes for it didn't come to pass, which allowed shareholders in insurance and reinsurance companies to breathe a small sigh of relief. But as the Fools discuss, the real economic impacts of the storm will be broad, deep, and significant. Retailers in particular may not easily make up their Irma-related losses.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Sept. 11, 2017.

Chris Hill: The hurricane is still going on. We don't know the full extent of the damage, and we won't for some time. But I think it's fair to say that, at this point, it's a weaker storm than we had all feared 48 to 72 hours ago. And that's being reflected in what we're seeing in the market today.

Jason Moser: I think it's less bad than we probably expected. That said, having gone through storms like this, it's still bad. And that's the thing that I don't want anyone to lose sight of. You see some sort of narrative out there like, "Oh, it's not as bad as we thought it was going to be, it's no big deal." It's actually a really big deal. This is an utterly life-changing event for a lot of people, and not in a very good way. But, with that said, it does seem like it's taking it easy. My Mom and Dad are in Southwest Georgia in Moultrie, which is an hour north of Tallahassee. So, they were kind of in that area, and I'll just read the text I got from them this morning. "So far we're good. The generator will work if needed." So, hey, that's pretty good. They still got power. Cousin of mine down in Jackson lost power, I have some family in Charleston, some power on and some power off there. But it sounds like, generally speaking, most people there are OK. I think the concern was, something like Southwest Georgia, you get off the coast and you get into the middle, and it's just a lot of pine trees there. And when a storm with high winds comes through like that, those pine trees just snap in half like matchsticks. And the water, you can't stop the water. When those trees come down, you can't stop that, either. So, any which way you cut it, it can be extremely destructive. It doesn't sound like it's going to be as bad, but it still going to be very bad. And it sounds like there's still some storms developing out there. So this could still be a volatile season.

Taylor Muckerman: Stories of up to 5 million people without power, some maybe for a week or more after the storm finally does make its way through. You're talking about 5% of the U.S. economy. So, it could impact us nationwide for a few extra weeks, just like Harvey did with the infrastructure down there. It doesn't necessarily impact the energy sector nearly as badly as Harvey did, but 5 million people without access to power is certainly significant.

Hill: And you look at the reinsurance stocks -- Universal Insurance, HCI Group -- they're all popping double digits today, and that's obviously nice for them and their shareholders. I think one more long-term story we're going to see play out over the rest of this calendar year is the day-to-day businesses, the restaurant groups, all of that. Just thinking of Bojangles, just to pick one name. Anything that's that concentrated in the Southeastern United States, I haven't looked at Bojangles stock recently, but I'm assuming they're in for a world of hurt.

Moser: Yeah, that's a really good point there. You can use Starbucks as an example. While they're certainly not nearly as tied to that area because they're so widespread everywhere around the world, whereas Bojangles is certainly very concentrated in that part of the country. And Bojangles has not been a terribly good investment since its gone public. I mean, hey, I love the biscuits, but it doesn't necessarily translate to an attractive stock. So, I think that's really the most difficult part of it for anyone in that area, when any of these storms ever go through, it's the small businesses, it's the businesses that rely on the day-to-day activity. As we said before, you can't get that activity back, you can only try to figure out a way to go forward. And when we talk about the insurers, we talked about insurance a lot, probably not as many people out there think about or know about how reinsurance works, but yeah, that's the insurers for the insurers. So, it's like, pass the buck along, almost perpetually. And somewhere down the line, someone takes care of it, and that's part of the benefit of having a strong economy, with the taxpayer, at the end of the day, you see a lot of that stuff get lumped into tax bills in some way, shape or form at the end of the year. But, yeah, whenever you consider an insurance company, you want to look at exactly how they're dealing with that risk. What are they covering and how are they dealing with that? We see Buffett talk about it all the time, you're going to have plenty of years where these insurers don't really witness a whole heck of a lot of activity, but then all of the sudden you hit an active hurricane season and the tide goes out and you kind of see who's exposed.

Hill: Yeah. You mentioned Starbucks. Obviously the smaller businesses, in some ways, because they're not as diversified, they're not as spread out all over the United States or around the world, that kind of thing. That being said, I think when you take what's happening with Florida and the Southeast with Hurricane Irma, we're still surveying the damage of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, and the port there, and how much shipping goes through the port of Houston. These larger businesses, and you can throw apparel retailers in there as well, a lot of them are running their businesses so close to the margin that it doesn't take a big disruption, they don't need a nationwide disruption to really crush them in one single quarter or a couple quarters in a row.

Muckerman: Yeah, you're not going to want to be holding onto a ton of inventory, so if you're missing a few trucks or a few rail cars of inventory, you're really strapped there. And you definitely saw that with the storm in Houston. And speaking of retailers, you've got a number of fairly large retailers with significant exposure to the Florida region and Irma's path. Abercrombie & Fitch, almost 8% of their total stores were in Irma's path. L Brands, 6.5%. So, certainly some retailers out there, especially with the back-to-school season that's still kind of in session, so some worries there for some retailers that haven't been doing all that well lately.

Chris Hill owns shares of SBUX. Jason Moser owns shares of SBUX. Taylor Muckerman owns shares of SBUX. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends SBUX. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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