* BP U.S.-traded shares down nearly 16 percent
* U.S. government threatens BP with additional penalties
* Justice Department looking at BP dividend
* BP eyes showdown with U.S. over liability-company source
* BP siphons more oil from blown-out Gulf well
(Recasts with fresh analyst quote, details)
By Ayesha Rascoe and Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON, June 9 British energy giant BP
Plc's (BP.L) (BP.N) stock price plunged to a 14-year low in
U.S. trading on Wednesday amid concerns over its ability to
meet mounting costs of the giant Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
President Barack Obama's administration, getting tough as
polls show public disapproval over its handling of the worst
oil spill in U.S. history, threatened to impose new penalties
on the company.
BP depositary shares trading in New York fell nearly 16
percent to close at $29.20, their lowest level since August
1996, on growing worries about the costs the company will have
to assume. BP said last week it has "plenty of" cash to deal
with the problem and the Obama administration has made similar
A BP spokesman said "nothing has changed" since Friday and
restructuring experts agreed that by runing the numbers alone,
BP looked able to handle the financial damage. But such
confidence was not evident in the market. [ID:nN09594681]
"It seems that shares are under pressure from the fear of
whether BP can survive. It is not just a rumor about the
potential of a dividend cut in BP anymore. Now it's about the
survivability of the company," said Jon Najarian, a founder of
Web information site optionMonster.com in Chicago.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a Senate hearing
he would ask the British oil major to repay the salaries of any
workers laid off because of the six-month moratorium on
deepwater exploratory drilling imposed by the U.S. government
after the spill.[ID:nN09152955]
Turning up the heat on the beleagured company, a senior
U.S. Justice Department official said after the markets closed
that the department was "planning to take action" to ensure BP
had enough money on hand to cover damages from the
FOR FULL COVERAGE link.reuters.com/hed87k
INSIDER TV: link.reuters.com/zyx77k
BP's total bill so far, including cleanup costs, has
reached $1.25 billion and the U.S. government has already said
it will have to pay billions more in penalties.
The White House echoed Salazar's comments.
"The moratorium is as a result of the accident that BP
caused. It is an economic loss for those workers, and ... those
are claims that BP should pay," White House spokesman Robert
Gibbs told a briefing.
BP believes it may be heading for a showdown with the White
House over widening liability demands, a BP source said. While
the company has said it will pay for the clean-up and direct
damages to those affected by the spill, the moratorium was a
government decision and costs related to it were a different
matter, the source said. [ID:nLDE6582NC]
Earlier, the company's stock closed down 4 percent in
London on concerns the company might have to suspend its
dividend payment. U.S. politicians have been calling for this,
saying the company should put its cash into paying for legal
claims and environmental damage in the Gulf.
CONFIDENCE 'HAS DISAPPEARED'
At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, one lawmaker asked
U.S. Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli whether the
Justice Department had the ability to issue an injunction
against BP to stop it paying its dividend.
"We are looking very closely at this and we are planning to
take action," he said.
With Wednesday's share price drop in New York, BP has given
up more than half its market value since the crisis began.
"The confidence in BP being able to stop the oil leak and
deal with the ecological aftermath has disappeared," said TD
Ameritrade chief derivatives strategist Joe Kinahan.
Illustrating analysts' anxiety about BP's dividend, in the
past two days alone, seven have cut their expectations on the
likely payout. link.reuters.com/jeb29k.
The cost of protecting BP's debt against default hit new
highs on Wednesday. [ID:nN09164382]
The spill began on April 20 after an oil rig exploded,
killing 11 workers and rupturing the deep-sea well. It has
caused environmental devastation along the U.S. Gulf Coast and
threatens lucrative fishing and tourist industries.
The Obama administration, facing growing voter discontent
over its own handling of the crisis, has sought to distance
itself from the company. Obama has also toughened his rhetoric
in recent days and said in an interview this week he would fire
BP CEO Tony Hayward if he worked for him.
In a further sign of the administration's pressure on BP,
Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is leading the government
relief effort, demanded that the company provide more
information and transparency on how it was meeting damages
claims by individuals and businesses affected by the spill.
"The federal government and the public expects BP's claims
process to fully address the needs of impacted individuals and
businesses," Allen said in a June 8 letter to BP.
BP has paid out close to $50 million in damages claims so
far along the Gulf Coast -- mostly to fishermen, shrimpers,
oystermen and boat operators who say their livelihoods have
been impacted by the spill.
STILL NO HANDLE ON THE FLOW RATE
Allen told reporters that BP planned to move another rig to
the spill site on June 14. This would enable the company to
boost its capacity to collect oil from the well to 28,000
barrels (1.18 million gallons/4.45 million liters) a day, he
Allen did not indicate this meant the flow rate of the oil
could be as high as 28,000 barrels a day, but his comments are
likely to underscore that neither BP nor the government have
yet managed to determine just how much oil is gushing out.
Government scientists have estimated that the leak spews
12,000-19,000 barrels a day, with one estimate as high as
25,000 barrels. They are due to present revised estimates later
this week or early next week.
The spill has already fouled wildlife refuges in Louisiana
and barrier islands in Mississippi and Alabama. It has also
sent tar balls ashore on beaches in Florida. One-third of the
Gulf's federal waters remains closed to fishing and the toll of
dead and injured birds and marine animals is climbing.
BP's latest containment effort, which follows a series of
earlier failed attempts, involved placing a containment cap
with a seal on a deep-sea pipe from which the oil is gushing.
But the ultimate solution to the leak lies in the drilling
of a relief well and that won't be completed before August.
(Additional reporting by Deborah Zabarenko, Ayesha Rascoe,
Jeff Mason, and Ross Colvin in Washington, Joanne Frearson,
Harpreet Bhal and Natalie Harrison in London, Pascal Fletcher
in Miami, Ernest Scheyder, Braden Reddall, Walden Siew, Doris
Frankel and Ryan Vlastelica, in New York and Kristen Hays in
Houston; writing by Ross Colvin; editing by Will Dunham and