JACKI LYDEN, host:
Shares of Massey Energy were down about 4 and a half percent last week. Two weeks ago, though, when the search for survivors was still under way at the Upper Big Branch Mine, the company and some Wall Street analysts issued rosy financial forecasts. They essentially told investors, don't worry.
NPR's Howard Berkes has more.
HOWARD BERKES: Five days after the deadly blast, Morningstar analyst Michael Tian didn't see a big problem for Massey Energy investors.
Mr. MICHAEL TIAN (Analyst, Morningstar): Maybe in a couple of years, they're going to restart that mine and that profitability will be back. It doesn't really dent the long-term earnings power of this company.
BERKES: And a few days later, Mathew Christy, of Standard and Poor's Equity Research, told investors to buy Massey stock.
Mr. MATHEW CHRISTY (Standard and Poor's Equity Research): I think it was a great opportunity for investors to be buying into the company.
BERKES: That's because the Upper Big Branch Mine produces coal that's used to make steel, and it is high-priced and in high demand, especially overseas. Massey says it may lose as much as $225 million to less coal production, wrongful death suits and destroyed equipment, but Christy still says buy.
Mr. CHRISTY: After the accident, they lost about a billion dollars in market value. And taking a look at past mining accidents, that decline was way overdone, considering potential ranges that the company could face if they were found completely liable for the miners' deaths.
BERKES: Twenty-five analysts track Massey Energy, but few commented right away. Among those holding back was Meredith Bandy, of BMO Capital Markets.
Ms. MEREDITH BANDY (Analyst, BMO Capital Markets): I think the reason you didn't see more of that is because frankly, it is a little crass. It's almost like saying that the lives of these 29 people don't matter. People aren't going to want to sort of pound the table and insist that investors buy it because I think there is a perception, even on Wall Street, that that's quite crass.
BERKES: But Bandy agrees with the general analysis of Christy and Tian, and all three note the same wildcards: bad publicity, tighter scrutiny from regulators, and tougher laws from Congress. They could hurt productivity, increase costs, and scare off investors.
Christy knows this sounds cold, given the human cost.
Mr. CHRISTY: It's an incredibly tragic accident; 29 miners died. But I have to look at the stock stoically.
BERKES: And here's Michael Tian.
Mr. TIAN: These are two separate parts. You can sort of feel, like, oh man, you know, all these people died and whatever it is, but you still have to do the analysis. If you don't do that, you're just not doing your job.
BERKES: Some Massey shareholders link the financial and human costs, demanding the resignation of CEO and board chairman Don Blankenship. Eight state pension funds - owning 2 percent of the company - say Blankenship and the board diminished the value of their investment, and may have cost workers their lives.
Badge Humphries is an attorney for another investor, the Manville Trust. It is suing to hold Blankenship and the board personally liable.
Mr. BADGE HUMPHRIES (Attorney, Manville Trust): Through a shareholders' lawsuit we can do that, so that these types of instance do not recur in the future and so that there's a different safety culture - so that it's a sounder, more valuable investment for long-term investors.
BERKES: There is at least one group, of course, that could care less about the investment, the investors or the analysts. Mark Moreland is a West Virginia attorney representing the widow of William Griffith, one of the four missing miners found dead five days after the blast.
Mr. WILLIAM GRIFFITH (Attorney): There are number-crunchers at Massey headquarters trying to decide whether this disaster is going to affect its bottom line. Certainly, she didn't have the luxury of thinking about Massey's bottom line or her bottom line. She was worried about the survival of her husband.
BERKES: Marlene Griffith later went after Massey's bottom line, filing the first wrongful death suit.
Massey Energy did not respond to NPR's request for comment for this story. In a conference call with Wall Street analysts Thursday, Massey executives observed a moment of silence for the dead, and then took 90 minutes of questions about the company's financial outlook.
Howard Berkes, NPR News.
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