August 27, 2017 / 8:29 PM / a year ago

Tropical Storm Harvey disrupts businesses, but some may benefit

Aug 27 (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Harvey is challenging a wide range of industries beyond energy, including insurers, home improvement retailers and automakers, but some sectors may benefit.

The hurricane could weigh on energy stocks, be mixed for insurers and boost home improvement companies, analysts said on Sunday.

Home improvement companies Lowe's and Home Depot have temporarily frozen prices for lumber and roofing materials at stores in the area affected by Tropical Storm Harvey, even as flooding has forced the chains to close dozens of stores, the companies said on Sunday.

Home Depot has so far announced the closure of 42 stores while Lowe's has closed 14 stores in Houston and the surrounding area.

"Right now we have to play it by ear just to see what the conditions are going to be in those areas," said Sarah Lively, a spokeswoman for Lowe's. "We are reopening those stores as quickly as possible."

The companies are preparing for strong demand once the storm has passed and property owners can begin repairs. Both companies said building supplies had already been sent to nearby emergency response centers.

Lively said Lowe's had already sent "500 truckloads" of supplies to the impacted area. At Home Depot, spokesman Matt Harrigan said preparations began "as soon as the storm was on the radar."

Companies in other sectors are still assessing the impact of the storm, which washed over manufacturing supply lines and transportation routes that run from Mexico through southern Texas.

Ford Motor Co, General Motors Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said on Sunday they had thus far not seen any impact or issues with getting parts across the storm zone but were monitoring the storm closely. The area of Mexico south of the storm zone is a major center for auto parts manufacturing.

Texas is a significant vehicle market, particularly for pickup trucks built by the big three Detroit automakers. In the short term, the storm is likely to hamper operations at dealers. But longer term, "it seems there has been enough flooding to damage thousands of light vehicles that will need replacing,” said Nick Colas, an independent analyst based in New York City.

BNSF Railway Co. told customers on Friday it was halting train traffic in and out of its yard on Galveston Island, Texas, until further notice, company spokesman Gus Melonas said.

Union Pacific Corp, the No. 1 U.S. railroad, said late last week it would move rail cars in yards prone to flooding to high elevations and would curtail trains operating through areas likely to be hit by excessive winds and rain that will impact operations.

For insurers, the storm could be a mixed blessing.

"Insurers -- from a long term point of view they can raise their rates but some insurers, if they have a particular geographic or sector concentration can get really beaten up. Maybe the winners are the companies that have the least damage but the most license to increase their premiums," said Michael Purves, chief global strategist at Weeden & Co.

Harvey was expected to not have a big impact on the market as a whole.

"Markets, based on Asian trading, appear bullish. So I don't expect much of an impact on equities," said Jack Ablin, Chief Investment Officer, BMO Private Bank, a part of BMO Financial Group.

Colas said there would possibly be some chatter tomorrow about the effect of rebuilding on Q3/Q4 GDP, but said that would probably be small. (Reporting by Dion Rabouin and Megan Davies in New York and Joseph White in Detroit; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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