"Net-net, it will be a wash, because our industry's products will be used to rebuild the devastated areas," said Andrew N. Liveris, chief executive of the Dow Chemical Company.
But while the industry may have dodged these immediate bullets, a thornier problem still interferes with executive sleep: natural gas prices that have been soaring since 2001.
High prices are a double whammy for the chemical industry. Natural gas is both its main fuel and its main raw material, the starting point for the basic chemicals from which the fibers and compounds in shirts, eyeglasses and even the wrappers for single-serve soups are derived.
"Chemical companies have been under assault for several years," said Robert Koort, an analyst at Goldman Sachs who has an attractive rating on the chemical sector. Diane H. Gulyas, chief marketing officer of DuPont, said that, if anything, the hurricanes "acted as a wake-up call."
"It made us all realize how shocking the underlying fundamentals of our business have become," she said.
The industry has passed along costs, and it is likely to continue doing so for now. Since Katrina, almost every chemical company has announced price increases. The trickledown effect to retail shelves is inevitable - soda and water come in plastic bottles, computers use plastic housings, even organic greenmarkets pack fruits and vegetables in plastic bags.
"Consumers can expect to pay more for everything, from medicines to auto parts to computers to shampoo," said Kevin Swift, chief economist for the American Chemistry Council, a trade association.
But industry specialists worry that if high gas prices curb consumer spending, the days of passing along constant price increases may end.
"The uncompetitive natural gas price in the U.S. is a long-term problem," said Gordon E. Slack, business director for Dow energy business, who said that high gas prices had turned the chemical industry from a net exporter to a net importer.
Those rising prices have effectively wiped out the American chemical industry's main competitive edge. Whereas most overseas chemical plants derive most of their raw materials from oil, gas has long been the feedstock of choice here. According to Mr. Swift, natural gas accounts for about 60 percent of the value of chemicals made here. Indeed, many chemical companies clustered their plants along the Gulf Coast, where so much gas is produced, to take advantage of what Mr. Slack called "the best natural gas prices in the world."
As recently as 2000, natural gas was selling for $2 per million British thermal units. But since then, environmental regulations have impelled many companies to switch from burning oil or coal to gas, even as other rules restricted drilling for new sources of gas.
Unlike oil, which is considered a global commodity, gas is generally moved through regional markets. Liquid natural gas can be shipped long distances, but the liquefaction process is expensive, and only about 3 percent of natural gas comes into the United States that way.
Around 2001, demand began to exceed supply, and gas prices have soared since. On Aug. 26, the Friday before Katrina hit, gas prices had already topped $8 per million B.T.U.'s. Then Katrina knocked out natural gas rigs and otherwise stanched the flow of gas. Since then, gas prices have hovered around $12, the highest in the world. Few experts think they will drop again soon.
"This unfortunate new reality of elevated oil and gas prices is going to be with us for at least the next 12 to 18 months," Ms. Gulyas predicted.
The effect on chemical company costs has been huge. Most have already shuttered energy-guzzling plants and installed productivity-enhancing programs in the remaining ones. Yet the savings have not kept pace with the costs.
Gas and oil accounted for 43 percent of Dow's costs this year; in 2002, they represented 29 percent.
Jeff Worden, a spokesman for PPG Industries, which makes chemicals, glass and paints, described it another way. "We use between 60 trillion and 70 trillion B.T.U.'s of natural gas a year, so if the price goes up one dollar, our costs are up $60 or $70 million," he said.
If the winter is severe, those costs could go even higher. In fact, the industry might even face shortages.
"No utility will shut the gas off in someone's home to give it to a chemical company," Mr. Swift said.
Few executives anticipate the situation to become that dire. "The industry's growth may be down a few percent this year, but it will increase by the same amount in 2006," said Klaus Peter Löbbe, chairman of BASF.
William H. Joyce, chairman of Nalco Holdings, is similarly sanguine. Nalco, which makes water treatment and process chemicals, estimates that the effect of the storms will add $15 million to its costs, even as customers whose operations were hurt buy as much as $10 million less from them. Yet in a statement Mr. Joyce referred to the problems as a "short-term disruption" that will be resolved in 2006.
Most analysts have lowered their estimates of chemical company profits this year, according to Thomson Financial, yet they still recommend that investors buy the shares.
"Margins may be low now, but they'll be picking up by next quarter," said Frank J. Mitsch, a chemical industry specialist at Fulcrum Global Partners, an independent research firm. "And this industry is going to have a good 2006."