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Beware the 'hellfighter' stock
Shares of Boots and Coots are up more than 250% this week. Too bad it might go bankrupt.
March 20, 2003: 12:08 PM EST
By Paul R. La Monica, CNN/Money Senior Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Usually when a company says it is considering filing for bankruptcy, its stock plunges. Not Boots & Coots, a company that focuses on fighting oil well fires.

The stock has surged 325 percent since announcing that it might file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Feb. 18 and is up more than 250 percent this week alone, as of Thursday morning. More than 70 million shares changed hands on Thursday morning, seven times the stock's average daily volume.

Why? It appears that investors are hoping that the company will do major business if Iraq sets many of its oil fields on fire. To that end, the stock gushed nearly 20 percent Thursday morning following confirmation of fires in southern Iraq near the Kuwaiti border. The stock had fallen as much as 48 percent earlier in the morning.

A Boots & Coots (WEL: down $0.10 to $2.00, Research, Estimates) competitor, RPC Inc., has shot up 23 percent this week and was up 5 percent Thursday morning.

Even though the companies might benefit from Iraqi oil fires, day traders are probably fueling this surge, and the average investor should stay away, said Dan Pickering, director of research for Simmons & Co., a Houston-based investment bank focusing on the energy sector.

"There is no doubt that if Iraq torches oil wells, there will be a huge amount of business for these companies," Pickering said. "But this is a very speculative investment."

Both companies have relatively small market values, tiny floats and no mainstream analyst coverage. So their shares will probably be extremely volatile and are likely to drop once the war is over.

That's what happened to RPC (RES: up $0.55 to $12.90, Research, Estimates) in 1991. The stock soared 35 percent during the Gulf War but by the end of 1991, it was back to where it began before the war started. Boots & Coots was not publicly traded during the first Gulf War.

And just a reminder: Boots & Coots is considering a bankruptcy filing. If history doesn't repeat itself and Iraq leaves the oil wells alone, look out below.

So investors interested in oil fire fighters would be better off saving their money and renting John Wayne's "Hellfighters" instead of buying these stocks.  Top of page

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