The Independent Investor: Time to Check Your Insurance Policies
With hurricanes to the left and right of us, maybe a review of your home owner's insurance policy makes sense. You may find out that at today's real estate values, you are underinsured.
If you are like me, the last time you visited the insurance subject was during the Katrina/Sandy hurricanes. Since then, houses in some areas have appreciated by more than 30 percent. If so, a devastating event such as the widespread destruction recently caused by Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida could really decimate what is probably your most valuable asset.
Given the fact that hurricanes seem to be sprouting up all over the place, if you have been spared thus far doesn't mean that you will miss the next one. The sad facts are that according to a real estate data company (Core Logic), over half of all homeowner insurance policies have a payout that is less than the cost of rebuilding a home in the event of a catastrophic loss.
Remember, too, that for most homeowners, the insurance policies you have purchased automatically low-ball the replacement cost values of your home. As far as the insurance industry is concerned, it is your responsibility to make sure you have the appropriate amount of protection.
And as a starter, did you know that most home owner's insurance offers limited coverage for hurricane and tropical storm damage? If you want something like hurricane coverage, it often comes with its own high deductible. In some coastal areas, you may need to purchase separate windstorm coverage.
"It is important to know," says Michelle V. Orlando, president of Cross Surety Inc., an all-encompassing insurance company based in the Berkshires, "that most homeowner's policies will not cover damage resulting from flood. A separate flood policy would be needed but there is typically a 30-day window before coverage can be put into place.
In general, flood and wind damage are considered separate events and are rarely covered under one policy. And unfortunately, most people in hurricane zones don't qualify for flood insurance. For that, you have to go to FEMA.
What can you do now (besides reviewing your policy and calling your agent) to prepare for a hurricane or flood in your area? Document your property. It should have been done a long time ago, but even if you did, I am sure you have made new purchases, improvements, etc. In the day of cell phone photos, it is also a good idea to photograph certain valuable pieces of property or possessions. Make sure all your outside items are stored inside. Park your vehicles in the garage and move anything near trees to a safer spot.
But let's say you do get hit by a weather-related event. Be quick to file your claims. And when you do, take careful notes, write down all claim numbers; keep the insurance adjuster's name and phone number. If you have out-of- pocket expenses for immediate repairs or hotel bills (in the event you are forced out of your home), make sure you keep the receipts.
Of course, for those who live in parts of Texas or Florida, it is too late to protect yourself. These homeowners have unfortunately learned a hard lesson. While they may have saved on premiums, due to a low replacement cost, they may have lost thousands, if not everything, as a result. Don't be penny-wise with your insurance, because the next storm might pound you into oblivion.
P.S.: for those living in the Northeast, you may want to call your insurance agent today. Reports are that Hurricane Maria may be taking aim at the Northeast by sometime next week.
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@theMarket: NK Missile Dud on Wall Street
The North Korean boy who cried wolf is alive and well, but seems to have less and less impact on financial markets. Kim Jong Un's minions launched another missile over Japan on Thursday night and the markets simply yawned.
Geopolitics are always a risk for the financial markets. For one thing, they are by definition unpredictable. Rarely do the antagonists worry about the economic and financial ramifications of their moves. As such, markets react quickly, but usually the impact only lasts for a short period of time.
It seems that even our tweet-happy president is learning that, in this case, Kim Jong Un, the boy in the wolf's mask, has a bark that is far worse than his bite. Have you noticed that none of those missiles hit anything? That is not by accident. Unlike the majority of Americans, I do not think Kim is either a madmen or stupid. Far from it. I believe he is a calculating despot whose single-minded purpose is to attain a seat at the table among the world's nuclear power brokers.
His missile tests are intended to do just that. He needs to demonstrate to the world that not only does he have the capability to manufacture nuclear bombs, but also the ability to deliver them in a consistent manner. His scientists and military, aided and abetted by technology from other nations, will continue firing missiles into the sea and testing nuclear devices underground
until the world is convinced that he can do it. Only then, with a seat at the table as an equal, will Kim be willing to negotiate.
While North Korea and a bomb blast on the London subway occupy investors today, what moves markets in the medium and long-term are economics, tax reform (think cuts) and to a lesser extent, the recovery of weather-torn Texas and Florida. The good news is, now that the floods and rain have subsided, investors are trying to figure out what the aftermath of Irma and Harvey will have on the economy.
Clearly, $300 billion in damages will take a dent out of the economic growth rate over the coming months. However, the need to rebuild, with all that entails will provide a boost to GDP down the road. So, as analysts are busy crunching those numbers, a new atmosphere of bipartisanship is giving hope to investors that something — anything — might be done by our lawmakers before the end of the year.
Granted, Donald Trump, the self-professed deal maker par excellence, has been a bit slow on the uptake, he is finally realizing that there are two parties in Congress. Since he has not been able to make much headway with the various splinter groups that is called the Republican Party, he has turned to the Democrats to further his agenda.
And his present agenda is tax reform. Readers are aware that I personally do not hold out much hope for the long-promised, much-needed (but never enacted) reform of our byzantine tax system. A far easier proposition is to cut taxes. After all, our politicians have a long history of cutting taxes one year and raising them the next. Tax cuts won't convince corporations to invest or spend more. The economy won't take off because of them either, think of it as an election bribe, most likely enacted just before the mid-term elections next year.
As for the markets, the good news outweighs the bad, thus the minor new highs we are enjoying in September. I suspect we will inch up a little further in the short term but markets will continue to remain volatile for the remainder of the month. Keep invested.
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The Independent Investor: The Price Tag of Disaster
|Damage from Superstorm Sandy back in 2012.|
Over the past four weeks, just two hurricanes have cost the country upwards of $300 billion. This has easily surpassed the 2005 hurricane cost of $200 billion, which included Katrina, Wilma and Rita combined. The cumulative cost of weather continues to escalate and with good reason.
Before you leap to the conclusion that global warming is the culprit, let me lay out some facts. Coastal storms are no more (or less) frequent an event now than they have been throughout our history. So what gives?
The answer lies in population growth and demographics within our own society. A few years ago, a study funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that although hurricane intensity varied decade to decade, there has not been a spike in either the number or intensity of hurricanes, nor is there any evidence that global warming is the culprit.
The study pinned the blame for the elevated level of property damage and deaths on the growing concentration of people and property in coastal hurricane areas.
Today, well over 55 percent of the nation's population lives in roughly 673 coastal counties. That's over a 30 percent increase since 1980. The Southeast had the largest rate of change, with a 58 percent increase during that time. The Pacific region and the Northeast are also seeing the same phenomena. At this point, over half of us are crowded together on only 17 percent of America's land mass (excluding Alaska). As a result, some catastrophe modeling companies predict that losses because of coastal storms will double every decade or so due to this trend.
Where there are people, there is also infrastructure — roads, bridges, ports, schools, hospitals, etc. There are also businesses such as stores, restaurants, factories, movies and the like.
Finally, there are homes, from hi-rise condos and apartment buildings to row after beachfront row of single and multi-family dwellings. More than 55 percent of the nation's housing stock sunbathes along our coasts. This social migration is happening all over the world. Whether scientists look at Europe, Asia or anywhere in between, the results are the same. People are deliberately putting themselves and their property in harm's way at an alarming rate.
Today, when even a middling hurricane makes landfall, the chances of $1 billion in damages and greater loss of life is higher than ever before.
The same can be said for earthquakes, according to FEMA. Its studies found that although the number and intensity of earthquakes have stayed the same (more or less) over the last hundred years, damage has skyrocketed due to "significant growth in earthquake-prone urban areas and the vulnerability of older building stock, including buildings constructed within the last 20 years."
At some point, when the cost of insuring "home, sweet home" on our nation's coastal areas grows to be greater than your mortgage payments, the trend will reverse, or at least we hope so. But in the meantime, as long as one keeps wishing for that place by the shore, the economic costs will continue to grow. It's your move, America.
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@theMarket: Markets Brace for the Weekend
Usually, the weekend is a time when traders try to relax, reduce stress, and prepare for the coming week's markets. This weekend will be an exception to that rule. Just about everyone is focused on the latest news of Hurricane Irma's landfall in southern Florida tomorrow and into Sunday.
Over in Southeast Asia, analysts are also expecting North Korea to fire off yet another missile. Exactly where and when is up in the air.
As if that were not enough, an earthquake and Hurricane Jose both hit Mexico simultaneously last night causing quite a lot of damage. Investors have no idea what economic impact these natural disasters will have on the North American economy. As for Kim Jong Un, there is always the possibility that an "accident" could happen, setting off World War III.
So it is not surprising that the stock market has gone nowhere this week. About the best you can say was that the averages were mixed. The only good news seemed to be that the debt limit was passed as part of a bill that provided the first flood relief money to beleaguered Houston. That surprised many, since the deal was forged by President Trump and the Democratic leadership.
Facing a protracted battle within his own party, Trump reached across the aisle for the first time in his presidency. The results were surprisingly quick and altogether positive. Of course, the rank and file within the Republican Party were at first surprised, and then angry, since they were gearing up for a protracted struggle within their own party. The various GOP splinter groups were planning on adding spending cuts, various pet pork-barrel projects, etc. to both the Harvey Relief aid, as well as the debt ceiling.
The markets took this sudden about-face by Trump positively. It helped support the markets in the face of all the other bad news. One could even hope that the president might resort to even more bipartisan help to further his agenda in the future. That could loosen the political logjam that has prevented any substantive legislation from passing Congress in the first eight
months of his term.
In a media atmosphere that wherever you look the first thing you see is the swirling visual of this "storm of the century" approaching American soil, it is understandable to be concerned, fearful, even panicked. Let's hope that like so many weather-related crises that the media hypes, this one won't be as damaging as they predict. If it turns out to be so, you could
even see stocks rally.
September is certainly providing the increase in volatility that it is known for. I guess the best that can be said for the markets so far is that in the face of overwhelming negatives, stocks have hung in there. That is a testimony to the underlying strength and conviction among investors that the future continues to look bright. It is why any pullback in the market, in my opinion, will be a single-digit decline at best and nothing that should concern you.
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The Independent Investor: America, the Battered
Extreme weather and other climate disasters appear to be occurring far more frequently than we would like. The loss of life and economic damage also seem to be increasing. But does the data support those opinions, and if it does, what price do we pay for all of these perfect storms?
Long-time readers may recall my columns of four and five years ago, where I examined the price tag the world (and the U.S.) pays for weather-related disasters. Given the fact that we are between hurricanes (Harvey has departed Texas, while Irma bears down on Florida); it may be a good time to educate new readers on the economic cost; not to mention the loss of life.
In 2016, the U.S. suffered twice the amount of weather-related economic damage versus the prior year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Weather and climate were responsible for 297 deaths and $53.5 billion in damage in 2016. Fifteen of these events cost at least $1 billion and covered 38 states.
In 2015, the costs were $21.5 billion. If you look back even further, over the past six years, there were at least 66 extreme weather events in the U.S. with a price tag of $1billion or more. Weather-related events caused 1,628 fatalities and $297.6 billion in economic losses throughout 44 states.
And now let's see what has happened so far in 2017. As of July 7, there have been nine weather events of $1 billion or more across the country, which caused 57 people's lives. And then came Harvey. Estimates so far put the price tag at $190 billion in damage with an additional 70 lives lost.
While Hurricane Irma, which some call "the largest storm in modern history" has yet to make landfall, most forecasters predict it will hit Florida dead-on by this weekend. Assuming it does, the economic damage could easily exceed $100 billion. No one knows how many lives will be lost. But by the end of this month, we could easily see as much as $300 billion in damages from these two events. And in the wings, Hurricane Jose and Katia are strengthening in the Atlantic.
If the magnitude and number of disasters appears unprecedented, it is because they are. Back in the Eighties and Nineties, according to the National Climatic Data Center, which is part of NOAA, it was rare to see more than two or three $1 billion, weather-related damage events annually. We had many years where the losses totaled less than $20 million a year. But today, billion-dollar events have become twice as frequent as they were back in 1996 as well as in the proceeding 15 years.
Looking at the time period from 1980-2016, the average number of annual weather events, according to NOAA, was 5.5 events per year. For the most recent five years, we have had twice that many events. And this year we have already hit 11 (and possibly number 12) by this weekend.
Expense-wise, we have also witnessed a big up-tick in the economic cost of these catastrophes. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy, the "Super Storm," hit the New Jersey, New York coast killing 131 people. The estimated damages peaked at $50 billion. Only weather catastrophes in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina, Wilma, Rita and Dennis, generated more deaths (2,000) and worse damage ($187 billion).
All of the above, however, is small potatoes considering that in just the last two weeks we face possibly more damage than all of these hurricanes combined. In my next column, I will examine some of the causes of both the increase in weather events, as well as the severity of the economic damage.
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