BP Stock in Freefall - Can Company Survive Disaster?

By Armen Keteyian, CBS News Chief Investigative Correspondent

From the moment the first fireball torched the sky above the Deepwater Horizon,  BP has spent about $1.25 billion and counting on the disaster. The vast majority of the money -- $1.2 billion - pouring into efforts to cap the spewing well and contain the crisis, plus nearly $50 million in claims paid to thousands caught in its wake.

As part of a PR blitz BP CEO Tony Hayward has vowed that "We will get this done. We will make this right." A promise President Obama has vowed the company will keep. But increasingly it appears Wall Street is questioning whether the world's fourth largest energy company can survive the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history.

Since the April 20 explosion BP stock has plunged more than 50 percent - from $60.48 to under $30 per share midday today, a 14-year low -- wiping out about $100 billion in market value.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

"It's in freefall," said Fadel Gheit, a leading energy analyst at Oppenheimer & Co.

Current estimates put the full cost of the Deepwater debacle -- fines, claims and legal liability -- as high as $23 billion after taxes. That's more than BP's estimated 2010 profit of $16 billion, fueling fresh talk of takeover attempts or possible bankruptcy.

"The situation changes every day, sometimes by the hour," says Gheit, Managing Director, Gas & Oil Research at Oppenheimer. As late as the morning of June 8, Gheit was recommending BP stock citing the deep pockets of the leading deepwater oil producer in the world whose 2009 revenues approached $240 billion -- or $655 million a day.

"BP got itself into a huge mess and they're going to try and pay for it," Gheit told CBS News. "But eventually they have the financial flexibility, in my view, to come out of this thing."

But in many ways that view has changed. On Tuesday Goldman Sachs downgraded BP stock from "buy" to "neutral." And today an energy investor at the boutique investment house Simmons & Co. told Fortune magazine he thinks BP is one step away from filing for bankruptcy which helped trigger another sharp drop in the stock.

"They have about a month before they declare Chapter 11," Matt Simmons told the magazine. "They're going to run out of cash from lawsuits, cleanup and other expenses. There isn't enough money in the world to clean up the Gulf of Mexico. Once BP realizes the extent of this, my guess is they'll panic and go into Chapter 11."

For the likes of Gheit such comments represent a predictable overreaction. He points out BP remains the leading largest oil producer in the U.S, holding interests in 31 oil fields or projects in the Gulf alone, including one -- Thunder Horse -- that produces 250,000 thousand barrels of oil a day. It has a cash flow of $30 billion and, Gheit says, the ability to borrow $15 billion more.

Yet even Gheit admits growing concern about BP eliminating its dividend and "that no one knows how deep this hole is going to be financially" are feeding the frenzy. Still, he believes the wild card in the equation is growing political pressure evidenced by President Obama's stinging "ass to kick" criticism.

"The political impact in my view would be a major factor in swaying this one way or the other," Gheit said. "There is no moderation in this market. Now everyone is calling for BP's head."

One, it appears, sinking into deep financial waters....growing darker by the day.

  • Armen Keteyian

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