How Recent Disasters Affected Markets and Economies

The biggest earthquake on record to hit Japan in 140 years sent stock markets across the globe sharply lower, while the yen and oil prices also fell.


The quake was followed closely by a 10-metre tsunami that killed hundreds of people and swept away everything in its path. The death toll is expected to rise.

Auto plants, electronics factories and oil refineries were shut across large parts of the country. Several airports, including Tokyo's Narita, were closed and rail services halted. All of the country's ports were closed.

While it is still very early to tell what the impact of the Japanese earthquake will be, it is likely that the events will not derail the country's stock market over the longer term, Olgerd Eichler, co-head of asset management at MainFirst Asset Management, told CNBC Friday.

The disaster is another challenge to Japan's recovery, but it may provide a jolt to the economy over the short term, Lawrence Summers, president emeritus of Harvard University and former director of the White House National Economic Council, told CNBC.

Historically, big disasters have rarely caused big drops in stock markets immediately after they happened, but their consequences on the economies and markets were felt long after.

Following the Asian Tsunami of 2004, which killed more than 230,000 people in 14 countries, markets in Indonesia and India ended the trading week after the tsunami over 1 percent higher, while the Thai and Malaysian markets were little changed.

Sri Lanka's market fell sharply immediately after the disaster, than got most of the lost ground back later, ending the week down about 4 percent.

The greatest sector hit in Asia in 2004 hit was tourism. The tsunami had far less economic impact because of the extreme poverty of the region, according to the Associated Press.

Hurricane Katrina

Another major disaster, Hurricane Katrina, that hit New Orleans in August 2005 and killed more than 1,300 people, was not only one of the most deadly hurricanes in history, but also one of the costliest.

It is estimated that the cost to the US economy of Hurricane Katrina was $45.15 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Around 400,000 jobs were lost, economic growth for the second half of the year was trimmed by a full percentage and oil supplies were severely affected. But Hurricane Katrina had little effect on the performance of the New York Stock Exchange in the two months following.

On the day Hurrican Katrina hit Louisiana, August 29th 2005, crude oil prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange closed at $67.20 a barrel, up 1.6 percent, after touching a high of $70.80 a barrel in earlier electronic trading.

New Zealand, Australia

Another country hard hit by earthquakes recently is New Zealand, which was under tsunami alert after Friday's earthquake but was later removed.

The country is just recovering from its own devastating earthquake that hit at the end of last month, killing at least 75 people.

The country's NZX 50 stock index fell 0.7 percent and the New Zealand dollar plunged by nearly 2 percent against the greenback after the quake in February.

But its effects are still felt throughout the economy and earlier this week the New Zealand central bank cut its main rate by 50 basis points to 2.5 percent to a record low to deal with them.

Insurers are still calculating the costs of that quake, while analysts said it may hit the government's plans to consolidate its finances. Another earthquake, which hit New Zealand in September last year, caused damages worth around $3.7 billion.

Australia was also hit by disastrous floods at the beginning of the year, and markets were not immediately affected, with Australian stocks – except for insurers - rising in the days after the floors.

But stocks and the Australian dollar were hit later in January by the government's announcement that it wants to raise $1.8 billion from taxes to help foot the estimated $5.6 billion reconstruction bill.

In January 2010, Haiti was hit by its worst earthquake in 200 years, which killed 316,000 people.

An Inter-American Development Bank study estimated that the total cost of the disaster was up to $14 billion, but global markets did not take a big hit on the day of the quake. The Dow actually finished the day slightly higher.

Iceland's Volcano

The eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in Iceland on April 15, 2010, forced the closing of European air space for a week.

Airlines requested aid from the European Union to help them deal with the economic disaster.

According to the IATA (the International Air Transport Association), companies saw about $1.7 billion of business lost from the eruption.

The ash cloud forced the cancellation of 30 percent of scheduled flights, affecting an average of 1.2 million passengers a day.

However, airline values dropped by only 4.94 percent during the first three days after European air space closed. European airlines lost 7 percent of their value on average during the nine days when European air space was partially closed.

Other transport companies benefitted as passengers looked for alternatives to flying.

The Eurostar saw huge demand from passengers, saying it carried 50,000 extra passengers on the first two days of the volcanic ash cloud - an increase of nearly a third.