Playing the blame game…

September 9, 2005

Over the past few days, a growing number of public companies have begun to sound a bit like presidential spokesman Scott McClellan during the daily White House briefings, like this one on Wednesday, when McClellan used the word “blame game” nine times. Yesterday, for example, 55 companies mentioned Hurricane Katrina in their SEC filings, a number that has been growing each day. On Wednesday, it was 45 and on Tuesday it was 33. Companies are blaming the storm for all sorts of problems — even companies that seemingly have limited business in the devastated area. Yesterday, for example, Intel (INTC) noted in an 8-K that Hurricane Katrina could have a potential impact on its results. Many more companies will almost certainly blame the storm over the next few days.

Most of the disclosures tend to fall into two distinct groups: retailers who operate stores in areas impacted by the hurricane and insurance companies that are expected to pick up at least some of the tab. Yesterday, for example, retailers The Sharper Image (SHRP), Children’s Place (PLCE) and Dollar Tree (DLTR) all noted that their stores along the Gulf Coast had closed and that they were still assessing the damages from the storm. Sharper Image also noted that sharply higher prices for gasoline could impact consumer spending in the weeks and months to come. Aspen Insurance Holdings (AHL) noted yesterday that its losses were likely to be around $150 million. But the company also said that the storm could actually be good for business as more people seek out insurance and premiums increase.

But the award for the most creative use of the storm goes to a small company called Epicus Communications Group (EPUCQ.OB). Last Monday, as the storm was just hitting the Gulf Coast, the West Palm Beach, Fl-based company cited Hurricane Katrina as one of the reasons why it wasn’t able to file its 10-K on time. Now Florida certainly has its share of hurricanes. But I happened to be down in Florida last week and if you hadn’t of turned on the TV or read a newspaper or gone online, you’d never have known there was a devastating storm going on.

So be on the lookout for more creative uses of this devastating storm. After all, politicians aren’t the only ones who know how to play the blame game.

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