Confessions of an oil investor

May 27, 2010

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IN THE wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska’s coast, my father gifted 55 shares of Exxon stock to each of his three children with explicit instructions to sell them before all the inevitable lawsuits followed.

I made a point of honoring Dad’s request by turning over my stock certificate to a broker for eventual sale. But since I had little need for cash at the time, and zero aptitude for business, I held on to the shares, and soon turned my attention to more pressing concerns, such as dating.

My newly acquired self-image as oil tycoon soon became a source of great pride. No longer a mere consumer, I actually owned a small stake in one of the biggest polluters of all time.

While I had always avoided filling up at Exxon’s pricey gas stations, I now embraced them. Just my way of giving back, I thought, as I inserted the nozzle into my beat-up Plymouth.

During my tenure as an Exxon investor, the company merged with Mobil. Its stock split twice, and the share value climbed steadily, year after year. That oil spill barely caused a ripple in the stock’s performance.

I now have my eye on British Petroleum. Spewing black gold into the Gulf of Mexico will surely devastate local fishing and tourist industries, but it could prove a bonanza for seasoned speculators like me.

Before I commit to purchasing any shares, however, BP will need to open up a gas station in town.

Christopher Gay

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