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Sat, May 17, 2008 - Page 10 News List

China tallies quake's cost to businesses

BUSINESS INTERRUPTED AIR Worldwide estimates that property losses will exceed US$20 billion. Officials are trying to minimize disruptions to firms in the quake zone

AP , SHANGHAI

Earthquake survivors use running machines for beds yesterday in the gymnasium of a sports stadium in Mianyang City where more than 10,000 people have taken refuge since Monday's massive earthquake in Sichuan Province.

PHOTO: AFP

Cracked dams and buckled roads, collapsed buildings and toppled factories — China has begun tallying losses from the calamitous earthquake that struck earlier this week, with estimates ranging to more than US$20 billion.

With the death toll from the disaster forecast to rise as high as 50,000, China’s main focus yesterday remained on rescue and relief for survivors of the 7.9 magnitude quake that hit Sichuan Province on Monday.

Central and local authorities have allocated 5.4 billion yuan (US$772 million) for disaster relief, the central bank said, as millions more poured in public and corporate donations.

Given the extended destruction of roads, schools, homes, businesses and other infrastructure, AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk modeling firm, said it estimated that losses to both insured and uninsured property would likely exceed US$20 billion.

Insurance companies had paid out 1.7 million yuan as of Thursday, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission said in a statement on its Web site.

AIR Worldwide put insured losses at up to US$1 billion.

The quake struck a relatively poor area where few families would hold life or household insurance. Still, in Wenchuan County, location of the quake’s epicenter, China Life Insurance Co, the country’s biggest life insurer, had more than 110,000 life insurance policies, a report by Fitch Ratings said.

“In addition to commercial property and business interruption claims, payouts on life insurance policies are also expected to be sizable,” Fitch said.

The Shanghai-based newspaper Oriental Morning Post cited one estimate putting maximum potential insurance payouts at 3 billion yuan.

Specific reports of damage and losses were emerging gradually.

Zinc and fertilizer producer Sichuan Hongda Co said yesterday its businesses were “severely hit” by Monday’s quake, with 31 employees dead.

Dongfang Electric Corp, a major manufacturer of power equipment, reported serious damage and casualties at a steam turbine factory, although other facilities were little affected.

The company’s Hong Kong traded shares fell 14.3 percent yesterday to HK$25.70 (US$3.29) after trading in its shares resumed for the first time since Tuesday. Trading in its Shanghai-listed shares was suspended pending a board meeting, Dongfang said.

The impact of the disaster on share prices overall has been limited. China’s bourses outside of Hong Kong temporarily suspended trading in shares of companies based in the quake zone, and traders in Shanghai said the country’s securities regulator had sought to discourage heavy selling related to the disaster through informal means.

Chinese share prices edged lower yesterday on the selling of regional power, cement and steel companies.

Investors were cashing in on midweek gains from speculation that such companies would benefit from rising demand due to post-quake reconstruction.

“Some institutional investors are using this tragedy to speculate on reconstruction-related shares such as cement, electricity power and steel shares,” said Zhang Linchang, an analyst at Guotai Junan Securities.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.4 percent to 3,624.23. The Shenzhen Composite Index fell 0.8 percent to 1.124.29.

China’s economic planning agency, already struggling to keep inflation in check, has imposed temporary price caps on basic goods and transport in quake-hit areas, warning that price gouging would be punished.

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