BP's Oil Spill Is Fouling Public Pension Funds

Oil spill on the beach
Oil spill on the beach

Since the BP's (BP) Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded over two months ago, killing 11 of its crew and causing a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the company's shares have lost 47% of their value. Despite moments of stability -- and even some rebounds -- the stock keeps trending lower as estimates of the cleanup costs keep climbing.

Now, it seems there's another cost to consider, albeit one BP cannot likely be held responsible for. Public pension funds have lost millions as their holdings in BP shares drop in value. According to Bloomberg data, the drop in BP's share price has erased more than $1.4 billion in fund value at 42 state retirement accounts.

This comes at a time when pension funds are still struggling to recover from last year's market losses. Take California Public Employees' Retirement System, or Calpers, the largest U.S. public pension at $210 billion. It held 58.2 million shares of BP on April 20, more than any other state pension, and this stake has shed $284.6 million in value.

A Drop in the Pension Bucket

California State Teachers' Retirement System, comes in second in value lost, at $104.8 million, followed by Florida at $87.8 million and the Texas Teachers Retirement System at $84.5 million, according to Bloomberg data.

While $1.4 billion sounds like a lot, it's a fraction of what public pension funds manage, which at the end of 2009 was more than $2.4 trillion for the top 100 funds, according to the Census Bureau. For example, they lost a total of $165 billion in the nine months that ended March 31, 2009, during the height of the financial meltdown.

BP shares haven't stabilized yet: They fell to a 13-year low on Tuesday in London. With concerns over costs not abating, BP further lost investor confidence when CEO Tony Hayward, who's no longer managing the oil spill crisis, dodged a conference appearance.