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Last Updated: Friday, 3 September, 2004, 23:53 GMT 00:53 UK
Markets brace for fresh hurricane
Satellite image of hurricane Frances
Hurricane Frances is twice Charley's size
Hurricane Frances is pushing up commodity prices and threatening to dampen sales - and possibly earnings - for a slew of companies.

Orange juice prices hit nine-month highs on the New York Board of Trade on Thursday, amid fears Frances would damage Florida's citrus industry.

Cotton prices also rose on worries that plantations in Alabama could be hit.

Airlines such as British Airways have cancelled flights and retailers shut up shop in the area as the storm nears.

Other European airlines, including Virgin Atlantic and Thomas Cook Airlines, have also cancelled dozens of flights to Florida and the Caribbean.

Storm fallout

Domestic airlines will also suffer as Americans cut short their travel plans for the long holiday weekend.

Michael Boyd, an aviation consultant at the Boyd Group, said he expected airlines to lose out to the tune of $35m to $40m.

The possible ramifications of the hurricane have also been weighing on insurers as it heads for the Florida coast.

Earlier this week, shares in insurers Munich Re and Allianz fell on fears they could face a further hefty payout.

Frances comes barely three weeks after Hurricane Charley cut a swathe of destruction through parts of Florida, with a total repair bill estimated at $7bn (3.8bn).

Ahead of Charley, WalMart stores closed around 75 stores in preparation, and later blamed the event for a decline in August sales.

For retailers and airlines, the timing of the storm could not be worse, coming as it does on Labor Day weekend - the public holiday on Monday makes up one of the four long weekends retailers usually look to for big sales.

Taking cover

However, not all retailers look set to lose out, as shops selling food and home improvement tools could benefit in the aftermath.

DIY chain Home Depot said it had already seen strong demand, as Florida residents prepared for Hurricane Frances to hit by rushing to buy plywood to board up their houses.

Food retailers also reported a surge in sales as Florida residents stocked up on bottled water, tinned food and other essentials.

Hurricane Frances, generating winds of about 140 miles per hour, currently ranks at level three on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale, one point below Charley.

Insurance bills

However, Frances is estimated to be nearly twice the size of Charley, and meteorologists have warned that it may yet be upgraded.

Charley is thought to be the second worst hurricane in Florida's history.

The worst, Hurricane Andrew, caused damage estimated at $20bn when it struck in 1992, contributing to devastating losses on the Lloyd's of London insurance market.

But analysts say insurers have since limited their exposure to hurricane damage, with the Florida government taking on a bigger role in disaster insurance.

Frances' approach has triggered one of the largest evacuations in Florida's history, with roads in coastal areas reported to be heavily congested as thousands flee their homes.

In pictures: Hurricane Charley
16 Aug 04  |  In Pictures
US hurricane victims face turmoil
17 Aug 04  |  Americas
Florida begins hurricane clean-up
16 Aug 04  |  Americas


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