There's a slow crawl happening around New York as millions try to get back to their lives a week after Superstorm Sandy. But the economic effects from the storm are far from over -- we're about to witness the ripple effects from this disaster, and they're going to be bad. The real question is whether they are going to be lasting.
I live in a powerless area, but even for those with restored power, the return to a "regular" day is still far away. Since the New York City region has limited subway service and restricted commuter trains, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has warned of a difficult trip both to and from the city.
Hundreds of thousands of workers cannot afford to miss work, and they will be crammed into temporary buses and over-packed subway cars. Their commute will extend an extra hour or more. As for the wealthiest workers who surround Manhattan, particularly those who work in the financial district and surrounding southern portions of the city, few will make the trek if they can possibly avoid it.
If you are highly paid and highly skilled or own your own business and can somehow work even marginally from a remote location, you're going to stay close to your home, making sure that your kids get safely to their re-started school, your downed trees get cleared away and your car has gas. To the degree that your phone is working and your Internet network isn't overloaded, you're going to work from home as best you can.We're talking about a world of bankers and lawyers pushing back deadlines and producing the bare minimum: Managers and client executives won't be in any mood or be particularly interested in hearing about the latest deal, and their spouses will be equally disinterested in hearing about the latest sale going on at their favorite store. Commerce around this huge and vital area of the country is going to go down -- maybe only by 20% or 25%, but it's unquestionably going down. And this bodes poorly for the rest of the nation. Call me a bit New York-centric if you like, but it's true: When New York sneezes, the U.S. is at risk for pneumonia. I'm not smart enough to know when things "get back to normal," when all the put-off deals and sales begin again and whether all the lost revenue will be recovered -- my guess is that they never will be entirely. What seems likely is that this superstorm will have rippled through the economy to carve perhaps a full 0.5% off the GDP for the fourth quarter, and maybe even more. Forgetting about insurance and re-insurance stocks, I wouldn't want to be deeply into bank stocks or other exchange-related issues that rely upon commerce in Lower Manhattan in order to thrive. I'm buying put-option protection on my portfolio and advising a cutting of positions in all the big banking stocks. At least until we know the true full damage done by the hurricane.