DALLAS -- The floods in southeastern Texas are not expected to have an immediate impact on municipal bond ratings in the region, although further assessment of the damage is necessary to evaluate longer-term problems, analysts said yesterday.
The floods, which have swamped dozens of Texas counties for more than 10 days, have caused the loss of up to 6,797 homes, the displacement of 13,000 people, the closure of major roads, and a 200,000-gallon spill of fuel and oil products along the San Jacinto River.
While 35 counties in the region have been declared disaster areas and are eligible for federal assistance, accurate damage estimates cannot be done until the floodwater recedes, officials said. But preliminary property damage estimates are in the tens of millions of dollars.
"The floodwaters are starting to recede, but right now there is still rain in the region," said Caroline Guckian, a spokeswoman for the state's division of emergency management. "Until the water recedes. the numbers won't be accurate."
Rating agency analysts were gathering as much information as possible to analyze the potential impact, if any, on credit quality of regional bond issues. but said no immediate credit action was planned.
"Historically, credit quality has been unaffected by natural disasters for a variety of reasons, including federal and state emergency assistance, property and business interruption insurance. available financial cushion, revenue diversity and revenue-raising flexibility," Standard & Poor's Corp. said in a CreditWeek Municipal article published on Monday.
Standard & Poor's director Sharon Gigante said rating agency analysts are calling issuers in the region to evaluate damage, including those at municipal utility districts,
Steve Levine, vice president and manager of the Southwest regional ratmg group at Moody's Investors Service, said Moody's is also gathering information from communities to determine the impact on the counties, such as Hams and Montgomery where heavy damage has been reported.
Levine said the rating agency was focusing, among other areas, on the 65 uninsured and 43 insured municipal utility districts that Moody's rates in Hams and other counties.
"Most of the utility districts that we rate have substantial fund balances, so it is not an immediate concern," Levine said.
At Fitch Investors Service, senior director Amy Doppelt said the rating agency will visit with Houston officials on Friday and discuss, among other things, cleanup costs.
In Houston and other municipalities, "the concerns would be the cost of the cleanup and the loss of property value, and how that would impact the future and current-year budget," Doppelt said.
However, "historically, natural disasters have not immediately caused downgrades," she said. "It is more of a longer-term impact."
In some cases, Doppelt said that natural disasters can fuel parts of the economy because money is spent on rebuilding, added sales tax revenue is generated when goods are purchased, and state and federal aid is pumped into the affected areas.