President Barack Obama made the statement on the
show that if Tony Haywood, the CEO of
, were working for him, he'd have fired him already. It's not likely either that the president will get the chance, because it is becoming more and more likely that there won't be any company to fire him from.
The continuing disaster in the Gulf has convinced me that it is unlikely BP will last the next two years, succumbing to the three-pronged burden of environmental cleanup costs, personal liability claims, government fines and indictments and the final straw, the market's ability to smell blood and apply what I've called the "Lehman trade" to BP.
BP Oil Spill Update
BP has certainly created an enormous money machine from which to satisfy their responsibilities for the Gulf disaster. Besides $20 billion of free cash flow that it generates and a $10 billion dividend at its disposal, it also has a reportedly $25 billion to $35 billion line of credit it can draw on. That's a lot of money, an almost unfathomable amount, and even the worst case scenarios of damage to the Gulf coast makes it difficult to understand how it won't be enough to see BP through.
It won't be enough.
We have only a few examples of the scope of damage this spill is likely to ultimately cause, and for the Gulf coast and BP, things are looking grim. The
spill in 1979 dumped 138 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, to date the largest spill of its kind and the effects of which scientists still claim are being felt.
Ixtoc was owned by the state-run Mexican company
while BP of course is publicly owned. Under the best case scenario, BP's spill will be at least equivalent to this and much more likely to be worse by a factor of as much as three, if relief wells require three months to hit their target as opposed to the first attempts, scheduled for late August. So we know that the sheer numbers of gallons of oil that will enter the Gulf will make this the worst environmental disaster of its kind, ever.
In American-controlled waters, we have one other example to draw on to gauge the consequences of this spill: the Exxon Valdez incident in 1989. In that famous case, a supertanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, dumping 11 million gallons of crude oil into the surrounding reefs.
While public outrage was great,
had the good fortune to have had its spill in one of the least populated areas on earth.
Sea birds and otters died by the thousands, but seabirds and otters don't have the ability to sue companies. Even so, Exxon reportedly paid $1 billion to clean up the spill and another $2 billion in litigation settlements. Remember that these were 1990 dollars.
With a spill that might end up being 30 times larger than the Valdez in an area as vibrant and heavily populated as the Gulf coast, it is hard to immediately fathom how deep the liabilities will be for BP.
Add to this the federal fines that are sure to come. In the Valdez case, Exxon was saddled with a $5 billion environmental fine, at the time more than the yearly profit margin for the company. Exxon was able to continually postpone and appeal the fine until it ultimately settled in the U.S. Supreme Court for $507 million in 2008. While BP may be able to play the same game, the government has drawn a bulls-eye on BP's back and I am expecting an historically high and punitive fine amount .
And I'm not sure that BP's pockets will remain as deep as they are today. As consumer anger grows and the stock slides, earning power and credit ratings for BP will surely erode, making their liabilities more difficult to bear.
Finally, there is a financial price to pay in the markets. As BP has been a bellwether for the declining market, it has taken on a new role - as the best short out there. As in the case of Lehman Brothers in 2008, hedge fund managers have been looking to buy credit default swaps on BP,
as hedges for general market exposure.
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This increase in credit spreads leads to hedging by selling company stock, a vortex of selling that continues to drive market cap lower and lower, as it did in the case of Lehman Brothers. I don't think BP can avoid getting stuck in this selling vortex at this point.
Because of all of these pressures, I think it will be difficult for BP to come through this Gulf disaster in one piece. Despite its deep pockets I wouldn't be recommending this stock and might even be selling it as a hedge for other energy exposure in equities. I don't believe BP will be here for long.
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At the time of publication, Dicker was long Exxon.
Dan Dicker has been a floor trader at the New York Mercantile Exchange with more than 20 years' experience. He is a licensed commodities trade adviser. Dan's recognized energy market expertise includes active trading in crude oil, natural gas, unleaded gasoline and heating oil futures contracts; fundamental analysis including supply and demand statistics (DOE, EIA), CFTC trade reportage, volume and open interest; technical analysis including trend analysis, stochastics, Bollinger Bands, Elliot Wave theory, bar and tick charting and Japanese candlesticks; and trading expertise in outright, intermarket and intramarket spreads and cracks.
Dan also designed and supervised the introduction of the new Nymex PJM electricity futures contract, launched in April 2003, which cleared more than 600,000 contracts last year alone. Its launch has been the basis of Nymex's resurgence in the clearing of power market contracts over the last three years.
Dan Dicker has appeared as an energy analyst since 2002 with all the major financial news networks. He has lent his expertise in hundreds of live radio and television broadcasts as an analyst of the oil markets on CNBC, Bloomberg US and UK and CNNfn. Dan is the author of many energy articles published in Nymex and other trade journals.
Dan obtained a bachelor of arts degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1982.