The photographs of the unfurling of 9/11 were horrifying enough to see. The pictures of the birds, turtles and dolphins encased in the red sludge of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill of April 20, 2010 are harrowing.
As the American public protests BP and its financial supporters in a national call to action I have never seen since the Vietnam War, I started asking myself a few questions as they relate to the mutual fund industry-such as, what are socially responsible investing (SRI) funds and governance committees doing about this event, which is being called the worst natural disaster in U.S. history?
Why didn't BP have a competent disaster recovery plan, as all investment banking, trading floors and asset management companies have long had dating back into the early 1990s?
Then, through some well-needed comic relief in a sarcastic but dead-on commentary in the WSJ by "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams-complete with a comic titled: "BP's Newest Plan is to Plug the Oil Leak With Florida: When Did Evil Become So Awesome?"-I quickly realized I was asking the wrong questions.
Instead, the real issue, for Wall Street and the investing public, at least, is how oil-related mutual funds performed in the year following a heretofore comparable event: the Ixtoc I oil spill on June 3, 1979 in the Bay of Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico.
The only two mutual funds in existence at the time with an oil concentration were the ING Global Natural Resources and T. Rowe Price New Era funds.
Sure enough, a Lipper analysis showed the ING fund rising from a $2.76 NAV on June 30, 1979 to $5.46 on June 30, 1980-a whopping, especially for the time, 108.4% return. The T. Rowe Price fund rose 44.49%, from $13.63 a share to $18.78.
Whether it's the money that these companies inevitably throw at their shareholders (BP has spent $10.5 billion on dividends and $50 million on advertising) or the hit that these oil spills will have on inventory and consumer sentiment-demand for oil could also outpace supply in the months ahead.
For now, I'd definately put my money on oil and gold.