'Top Kill' Moves BP Stock

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Ever since BP began the "top kill" effort to cap its gushing oil well, progress reports have been moving the company's stock price. This has forced the company to change the way it deals with reporters and distributes information.


Ever since BP began its top kill effort, its stock has been moving up and down on little bits of news. As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, that's led the company to be extra careful about how it releases information.

TAMARA KEITH: Want to know how the undersea operation is going? You could just check BP's stock price. John Coffee, who specializes in securities law at Columbia University, says investors are hanging on every movement.

Professor JOHN COFFEE (Securities Law, Columbia University): Given the context that BP finds itself in with an environmental catastrophe of really unequal proportions, any disclosure about what's going on, either with recent events or your current progress in stopping that leak, is going to be material market moving information.

KEITH: Material market moving information is a key term because he says there are federal rules limiting the way companies are allowed to share it. BP officials say they won't release operational play-by-play information to reporters as the top kill proceeds because the information is quote, market sensitive. Coffee says BP is being cautious for good reason.

Prof. COFFEE: BP, as a company listed on U.S. securities exchanges, cannot selectively disclose information. It must give that information to shareholders evenly.

KEITH: What about reporters?

Prof. COFFEE: Now, that's a special quirk in the rule.

KEITH: Sharing information, even selectively, with reporters is OK, he says. But Jay Brown, professor of law at the University of Denver, says there are other reasons for BP to control its message.

Professor JAY BROWN (Law, University of Denver): All big, public companies know that the message that they're stating to the marketplace about very volatile developments like this can influence the share prices. And I think in those circumstances, they have a legal obligation to make sure what they say is very accurate. And I think that's what's going on here.

KEITH: BP's shares closed down today, about 5 percent.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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