Investors pummeled shares of oil drillers and BP on Tuesday, after President Obama talked tough about dealing with the worst oil spill in the nation’s history.

Analysts added fuel to the sell-off by cutting their earnings outlooks on companies that figure to be hurt by the six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf or the temporary delay in issuing permits for drilling in shallow water.

Goldman Sachs even suggested the deepwater moratorium could go for as long as a year with limited activity until 2012.

Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer in an interview for the “Today” show that he has spoken with Gulf fishermen and oil spill experts about the spill.

Lauer noted that some critics say this is the time for the president to more than meet with experts; it’s also time “kick some butt.”

“I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar,” Obama said. “We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers — so I know whose ass to kick,” Obama said.

The comments helped set the stage for a big sell-off of BP and drilling companies with operations in the Gulf. Shares of BP, which leased the rig that exploded and sank in April, sank to a 15-month low. Shares of Transocean, which owned the rig, hit their lowest level in 18 months.

“I think the president’s comment fueled speculation about potential liabilities,” Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Fadel Gheit said Tuesday. “But, heated political statements aside, all the companies involved will have their day in court and it may be years after the president leaves office before the final settlement.”

Shares of the five companies directly involved in the spill have lost about $125 billion in market value since the explosion and fire that killed 11 workers on the BP-leased rig.

Pressure from Obama and some members of Congress on BP to reduce its dividend also weighed on its shares, said analyst Pavel Molchanov of Raymond James.

BP can afford to maintain the dividend, but it could “cut it or suspend it altogether as a way of let’s say offering a concession or responding to this political pressure,” he said.

BP shares have lost $81 billion, or 43 percent, of their market value. Shares of Anadarko Petroleum, a 25 percent owner of the well, have dropped about $16 billion, or 43 percent.


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