Here’s a provocative thought:

BP_wilts_smBP’s stock, which traded at a 52-week high of $62.38 on Jan. 19, 2010, closed on June 1 at $36.52 a share, down 15% on the day. The post-spill sell-off has wiped out some $68 billion of BP’s market value, knocking it down to $114 billion. With the stock now in the cellar, some speculation even has it that BP may attract a buyer.

There are a couple of things going on here.

First, the stock price reflects the value that “the market” places on a company.  One technique for evaluating the effect of some major event on a company’s value is to do an “event study.”  The idea is to try to use other factors (e.g., larger market trends, stock prices of other firms in the industry) to get at how important the event was. A spill like this could damage a company’s reputation, expose it to liability payouts, or make it susceptible to heavy fines.

Ben Fissel at Econbrowser put one of these together shortly after the spill.

When an event, such as this oil spill, impacts a company it will also impact its long run profitability. The divergence of the stock price from what we would have expected had the event never happened is a measure of the net present value of the cost incurred by the oil spill.

He finds big impacts.  The red line in the picture is his estimate of the time series of BP’s stock price without the spill, and the black line is the actual price.  Seems like a big effect.

At the time he did the study, the stock price had been between $50 and $60 for the previous three months.  As the AOL article shows, the price is now down closer to $35. Overall, the market’s valuation of BP has gone from more than $180 billion to about $114 billion.  Does that seem reasonable?

That is, in fact, the second point, that doesn’t seem all that reasonable, which is why BP’s stock is now so low that it might be attracting a buyer.  In other words, at current prices smart money might find BP stock such a bargain that it will swoop in and buy the company, liability exposure be damned. Does that seem reasonable?

I completely buy this logic.  Given that BP is the world’s largest oil producer, it is hard to believe that the long-term profitability of the company has really fallen 40% due to the oil spill. The linked article provides some reasons why a merger might be implausible, but on the fundamentals, this may well be an overreaction.

Further food for thought, what will happen to oil prices if there are significant steps taken to reduce offshore drilling and who stands to win and lose from those price changes?