Oil: Stormy Petrol

Puffing pensively on his pipe, Shell Oil President Monroe Edward Spaght summed up the state of the U.S. oil business: "A few years ago, we were the glamour girls of industry. Now Wall Street thinks we're a bunch of tramps—we have lost our virtue."

To reinforce his wry description of the oil industry today, Spaght could point to trouble signs as numerous as gas stations on Route 66. Common stocks of the 20 biggest U.S. oil companies have tumbled an average 25% in the past five years, and retail gasoline prices are down to a nine-year low. Last week, as Midwestern...

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