A better idea of how Hurricane Sandy is affecting the retail business will come Thursday, when some major retailers such as Target Corp. and Macy's will report sales figures for October.
The storm is affecting small retailers as well as large ones.
At Angelo's Civita Farnese, a restaurant in Providence, R.I., the lunchtime crowd didn't surface as usual Monday. By 12:30 p.m., barely 10 customers were inside, and owner Bob Antignano had no hope of seeing the 200 to 250 he usually serves for lunch.
"It's a wasted day and it looks like tomorrow probably will be as well," Antignano said.
The loss of two days' revenue will wipe out his profit for the month. He would face losses if the restaurant lost power. He would have to close, and the food in his walk-in refrigerator and freezers could spoil.
The cost to insurers is expected to rival the insured damage from Hurricane Irene last year. Damage from Irene cost insurers roughly $5 billion, according to Sterne, Agee & Leach Research. Because the storm is hitting a highly populous region, with "one of the highest concentrations of wealth in the world," the damages are likely to run into the billions, say analysts at Morgan Stanley.
Hurricanes, like other disasters, can cause big losses but also big spikes in economic activity, once homes and buildings are rebuilt or repaired. And Americans may spend more before the storm when they stock up on extra food, water and batteries. Spending can also rise afterward as households restock.
The economy expanded at an annual rate of 2 percent in the July-September quarter. Zandi said he isn't changing his forecast for similar growth in the current October-December quarter of 1.9 percent.
Economic activity in October and November might slow if factory output declines and some workers are laid off temporarily and seek unemployment benefits. But the economy could strengthen in December as companies rebound.
CoreLogic, a private data provider, estimates that about 284,000 homes worth about $88 billion sit in the hurricane's path.
The effect on auto sales may be minimal, some analysts say. Many people who planned to buy cars in the last few days of the month, when deals tend to peak, bought cars during the weekend instead, said Jesse Toprak, an analyst with car buying site TrueCar.com.
As a result, TrueCar isn't changing its forecast for October U.S. auto sales. Toprak predicts that more than 1.1 million vehicles will be sold in October, up 11.5 percent from the same month last year.
Forecasting firm LMC Automotive predicts that 1 percent to 3 percent of new-car sales, about 20,000 vehicles, will be lost because of the storm. But LMC analyst Jeff Schuster predicts that those sales will simply shift to November. So the storm might have little or no overall effect on sales.
Toprak also notes that dealers could gain sales once the storm is over if people need to replace damaged vehicles.
Energy outages and disruptions in major East Coast cities "may take a toll on [power] demand unlike anything we have seen before," Phil Flynn, a senior market analyst for Price Futures Group, wrote in a report.
Some of the biggest oil refineries in the Northeast were closed, and others were running at reduced capacity. As businesses closed and drivers stayed home, demand for gasoline was expected to fall.AP Business Writers Matthew Craft, Anne D'Innocenzio, Samantha Bomkamp and Joyce M Rosenberg in New York, Joshua Freed in Minneapolis and Tom Krisher and Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed to this report.