A natural disaster is the consequence of a natural hazard (e.g. hurricane, volcanic eruption, earthquake, landslide) which moves from potential in to an active phase, and as a result affects human activities. Business is one such activity.
The International Red Cross, which publishes an annual World Disasters Report, says the economic cost of natural disasters has skyrocketed. In the past two decades alone, direct economic losses from natural disasters multiplied five fold to US$629 billion. Annual direct losses from weather-related events increased from an estimated $3.9 billion in the 1950s to $63 billion in the 1990s.
Natural disasters tend to affect insurance companies as well as local businesses affected by the disaster. The impact on other businesses can vary. For example, disruption in the oil drilling and refining activities in the Gulf of Mexico during the 2005 hurricane season caused some companies to lose revenue due to the loss of productive capacity, but also caused the price of oil to increase thus benefiting others in the industry. Landstar System, which has a contract to provide trucking services to the U.S. Government in the aftermath of natural disasters, was also a beneficiary.
Some studies have suggested that commodities provide an effective hedge against natural disasters because disasters such as floods, drought and hurricanes can affect commodity supply (see oil example above) and increase the price. However, the effect can differ across commodities - a drought could cause a shortage of corn and increase corn prices. The higher corn prices raises feed prices, which could cause ranchers to slaughter cattle earlier than usual and depress the price of that commodity in the short term.
Many companies are adversely impacted by the threat or actuality of natural disasters. Some include: