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Katrina Packs Economic Wallop; Home Depot, Lowe's Poised for Long-Term Benefit

With little in the way of damage assessment so far, New Orleans, Gulfport and Biloxi retail and real estate owners are still trying to gather information on the health and safety of their personnel. But they also are learning that many of their assets are damaged or destroyed.

The largest mall in the Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss., area, the 900,000-square-foot Edgewater Mall, "took a severe beating from the storm surge and wind," according to a spokesperson for Jim Wilson & Associates, which manages the property. "We're still getting reports on it. But we do know it was severely damaged."

The mall sits on highway 90, just miles off the Gulf of Mexico. The 42-year-old property took on up to six feet of water. The company is still trying to follow-up on the well-being of its employees. But it has already pledged to rebuild the mall, though it estimated it will probably be several days or weeks before it can get in and make an assessment. A strip center next to the mall, not managed by the company, was also heavily damaged.

The company said that none of its other properties in the region were impacted.

General Growth Properties Inc., has eight properties in Louisiana, including the Riverwalk Marketplace just off the Mississippi River in downtown New Orleans, which it acquired as part of the Rouse Co. deal last year. Because of the flooding, it has not yet been able to get an assessment of the damage on the property. General Growth also owns one property in Mississippi.

Stirling Properties Inc., headed by past ICSC-Chairman James Maurin, has a 9.2 million-square-foot commercial real estate portfolio largely concentrated in the affected areas. The company's Web site is down and its phones returned busy signals.

Weingarten Realty Investors said that the hurricane had "minimal effect" on its portfolio in Louisiana. It has two properties near New Orleans -- each under 100,000 square feet -- that it has been unable to assess. It also has properties in Hammond and Baton Rouge that "sustained no significant structural damage."

Many retailers will see impacts in their August and September sales figures. Wal-Mart was forced to close 123 stores throughout the region in anticipation of the storm. Many have been damaged or remain closed since power has not been restored. And Wal-Marts have been the site of some of the looting that has occurred in the days following the hurricane.

Retailers with assets concentrated in the region will feel the most pain. Hibbett's Sporting Goods, for example, had one-fifth of its 500-store portfolio in the path of the storm. The company is still trying to assess the impact.

"On average, those 100 stores will lose three shopping days, which cumulative amounts to about 300 of the 45,000 plus shopping days in the third quarter, or about 0.7 percent of the total," wrote David Magee, an analyst for SunTrust Robinson Humphrey. Magee cut the same-store sales estimates for the chain from a 3.5 percent increase to a 2.5 percent increase. But Magee added that many retailers may end up picking the business back up later. "There may actually be a pick-up in business," Magee wrote, "when insurance checks are cut, given ruined products in customer homes."

Lowe's and Home Depot had between 5 percent and 10 percent of their stores in the path of the hurricane, according to Citigroup analyst Bill Sims, but in the end he expects both chains to benefit. In Florida last year, for example, same-store sales for both chains were up between 25 and 100 basis points in the three quarters after four hurricanes passed through compared with other stores in the chains. Home Depot and Lowe's have 2.1 percent and 3.2 percent of their respective chains in Louisiana and Mississippi.

"Post a serious hurricane, home improvement retailers can benefit for two, three or more quarters as homeowners repair and improve their houses," he wrote.

-- David Bodamer

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