Snow costs US businesses $1bn but jobs pressure eases

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The Independent Online

US businesses have been counting the cost of the snowstorm that swept through the north-east on Boxing Day, making roads impassable and grounding thousands of flights.

Retailers suffered an estimated $1bn in lost or delayed sales, as blizzard conditions deterred people from hitting stores to take advantage of post-Christmas sales and, with air travel still getting back to normal yesterday, airlines may have to swallow $150m in losses from the disruption.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has launched an examination of what he conceded was the city's inadequate response to the storm, which attracted criticism from residents and small business owners alike.

ShopperTrak, the retail market research firm, said that the snow derailed what had until Christmas been a very strong holiday shopping season. Retailers usually expected about $10bn of sales on 26-27 December, it said, but the weather probably delayed about 10 per cent of that. This year's storm cost retailers 11.2 per cent of their expected custom on Sunday and 13.9 per cent on Monday, it said.

The firm said it was optimistic that stores could make up much of the loss as shoppers venture out again now the streets are clear.

For airlines, the cost of cancelling flights and rebooking passengers will not be recovered. Together with other incidental costs, including fuel for planes that idled on congested runways and de-icing equipment, the total bill for the disruption will be between $100m and $150m, according to Boyd Group Consulting.

Economists said that the cost of the storms adds up to only a small wobble in what is expected to be strong end-of-year growth for the world's largest economy. US GDP growth for the final three months of the year is expected to come in at an annualised rate of more than 4 per cent.

A clutch of positive data yesterday added to the tentative optimism. The number of American workers filing new claims for jobless benefits fell by 34,000 last week to 388,000, the first time in two-and-a-half years that the figure has dipped below 400,000. A survey of business activity in the US Midwest, by the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago, showed expansion at a rate not seen for two decades. And a 3.5 per cent jump in existing home sales in November eased concerns around the US housing market.

The jobs number is "pretty impressive," said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at Oakbrook Investments. "But one thing to keep in mind is that we're going through the holiday season where there's a lot of temporary hiring takes place... it will be interesting to see, once we get past theholiday season, if this holds up."

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