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Is it time to start thinking about
bankruptcy? There is an incredible belief that somehow the firm's cash flow of almost $7 billion a quarter is enough to get them through this.
I am beginning to think that this thing will swallow the company, just swallow it. And the claims are unfathomable as long as this continues. If we get a storm, a big storm, it's pretty much "game over" for the company, and I doubt anyone can argue against that.
I have heard many analogies to the
Valdez, but I am beginning to believe that this one's more like asbestos and the endless companies that had to file bankruptcy to deal with the endless claims from people who worked with asbestos.
Because the asbestos companies knew their product could hurt people. They had done studies. They did not stop using it. They thought they were in the clear for years. They weren't. Companies like Federal Mogul, Owens Corning, Johns-Manville and Eagle Picher told us for years not to worry, that the claims were under control, that insurance could cover them, that they were not in jeopardy.
They all went bankrupt, overwhelmed by the plaintiffs' claims over the fatal lung disease asbestos caused.
Yes, it is true that the tragedy BP caused has not resulted in the deaths of anyone beyond the workers on the
But it is the sheer volume of claims that I think makes the analogy work. There's simply no way any one company can make good on the claims that will be filed.
Right now, it's not top of mind that this could happen, because BP is a big company with lots of resources. But so were all of the companies that made asbestos.
But think of it like this. What really crushed the asbestos companies was a collective finding of guilt that the asbestos makers knew the product could kill. Those companies went down first. But the companies that used the product, attenuated, were wiped out, too.
BP is more analogous to those companies. If we get a finding of guilt, of real guilt, that BP should have known better, I think the company's finished. It will not survive, because it makes for a whole different dynamic.
And I think that a finding of guilt after a Justice Department investigation is a real possibility.
The denials are the same. The worries muted.
The threat becomes more real every day this spill goes on. If we get indictments, the claims will overwhelm and it will be
in BP'S interest to file for bankruptcy to manage the process
That makes the stock uninvestible. Just not analyzable. And very dangerous. Even down here.
At the time of publication, Cramer held no postions in the stocks mentioned.
Jim Cramer, co-founder and chairman of TheStreet.com, writes daily market commentary for TheStreet.com's RealMoney and runs the charitable trust portfolio,
. He also participates in video segments on TheStreet.com TV and serves as host of CNBC's "Mad Money" television program.
Mr. Cramer graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, where he was president of The Harvard Crimson. He worked as a journalist at the Tallahassee Democrat and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, covering everything from sports to homicide before moving to New York to help start American Lawyer magazine. After a three-year stint, Mr. Cramer entered Harvard Law School and received his J.D. in 1984. Instead of practicing law, however, he joined Goldman Sachs, where he worked in sales and trading. In 1987, he left Goldman to start his own hedge fund. While he worked at his fund, Mr. Cramer helped start Smart Money for Dow Jones and then, in 1996, he co-founded TheStreet.com, of which he is chairman and where he has served as a columnist and contributor since. In 2000, Mr. Cramer retired from active money management to embrace media full time, including radio and television.
Mr. Cramer is the author of "
," "You Got Screwed," "Jim Cramer's Real Money," "Jim Cramer's Mad Money," "Jim Cramer's Stay Mad for Life" and, most recently, "Jim Cramer's Getting Back to Even." He has written for Time magazine and New York magazine and has been featured on CBS' 60 Minutes, NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams, Meet the Press, Today, The Tonight Show, Late Night and MSNBC's Morning Joe.