Finance

Michael P. Regan is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering equities and financial services. He has covered stocks for Bloomberg News as a columnist and editor since 2007. He previously worked for the Associated Press.

Hopefully everyone on Florida's eastern coast is heeding the warning from Governor Rick Scott to evacuate before Hurricane Matthew hits the state Friday.

For what it's worth, the stock market on Thursday began taking it very seriously. 

As residents evacuated parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in advance of the storm Thursday, investors accelerated a retreat from the companies deemed most at risk, with shares of smaller Florida-based insurers already suffering steep declines.

Take a look at the spaghetti plot of trading for Universal Insurance Holdings, United Insurance Holdings,  HCI Group, Federated National Holding Co., and Heritage Insurance Holdings:

Gale Force Selling
Florida-based insurance stocks have been hit hard as Hurricane Matthew approaches the state
Source: Bloomberg data
Note: Each stock indexed to 100 as of Sept. 1

The potential severity of damages from Hurricane Matthew has been all over the map, as have forecasts for the storm itself (it's now currently on track to be the strongest to hit the U.S. in more than a decade). The latest projected economic loss for the U.S. is now $40 billion, based on Kinetic Analysis data cited by Bloomberg Intelligence. Insured losses could be $28 billion and reinsurers may be on the hook for large payments for the first time in years. Kinetic's forecast for economic losses has bounced around considerably in recent days, surging back up after dropping at one point to $5 billion.  Forecasts from other sources are for damages of as much as $50 billion.

While the smaller, local insurers may be among the most vulnerable to losses, the bigger, national companies will also be exposed. AIG and Progressive are among the biggest publicly traded insurers with major homeowners' market share in Florida. (AIG shares were little changed on Thursday while Progressive lost about 1 percent.)   

In Harm's Way
Some of the leaders in direct written homeowners insurance premiums in Florida
Source: Bloomberg Intelligence

Undoubtedly, the moves lower in some of the smaller companies are going to attract traders the same way that a big storm attracts surfers. The declines have created some come-hither indicated dividend yields of 4.8 percent for HCI and almost 3 percent for Universal Insurance Holdings; they're now almost 2 percent for Heritage and Federated National.

As Sandler O’Neill analyst Paul Newsome wrote, according to Bloomberg First Word, the share-price movements tied to hurricanes are “as unpredictable as the hurricanes themselves" and it may be worth shopping for some names to dollar-cost average into.

That may ultimately prove to be a good idea. But with Matthew bearing down on Florida in the coming hours with a forecast strength of Category 4 or Category 5, it very well could live up to the hype of being the most destructive Florida storm since Hurricane Andrew almost a quarter century ago. 

Daredevils, whether they be surfers or stock traders, may find it hard to resist testing the waters in this storm. Far be it from us to talk them out of it, except to say the same thing to both groups: Be careful out there.  

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Michael P. Regan in New York at mregan12@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Beth Williams at bewilliams@bloomberg.net