T. Boone Pickens closes energy fund citing ill health

T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oilman and former corporate raider, is closing his energy-focused hedge fund, bringing to an end one of the most momentous US business careers of the past half-century.

At the age of 89, Mr Pickens said in a post on LinkedIn, it was “time to start making new plans and setting new priorities”.

He added that the past year “has not been good to me, from a health perspective or a financial one”, with a series of strokes late last year and a major fall over the summer.

“If you are lucky enough to make it to 89 years of age like I have, those things tend to put life in perspective,” he wrote.

He plans to focus on “personal passions” including promoting entrepreneurship, philanthropy and “political endeavours”.

The performance of his energy investment firm, BP Capital, has been hit by the weakness of oil and gas prices, which cut the value of its holdings in production and pipeline companies. Mr Pickens’ net worth was estimated in 2016 at $500m, down from the $950m calculated by Forbes magazine in 2013.

Last year Mr Pickens divorced his fifth wife, Toni Brinker, who he had married in 2014, and announced he was putting his 65,000-acre ranch in Texas up for sale with a price tag of $250m. He said hoped the property “winds up with an individual or entity that shares my conservation ethic”, to preserve its “pristine prairie conditions.”

His fading vision and limited hearing had forced him to give up golf and hunting on the ranch. “Although the beauty of Mesa Vista remains intact, the ranch roads I have driven thousands of times are now blurred,” he wrote. “It’s time to embrace and accept that my life has changed.”

His career began working at Phillips Petroleum in 1951, but after three years he branched out to set up on his own. His company, Mesa Petroleum, floated in 1964, and he built it up through acquisitions and discoveries.

It’s time to embrace and accept that my life has changed

In the 1980s, the dealmaking took over: he led a series of ambitious tilts at larger companies, including his first employer Phillips, and became an outspoken champion of shareholders’ rights. As investors became increasingly conscious of their power as corporate owners, and more willing to push boards to respond to their demands, Mr Pickens was in the forefront of change.

In the 1990s he went back to focusing on oil and gas again, but even as he approached his ninth decade, Mr Pickens’ grasp of industry trends had not deserted him. In July 2008, as oil prices were surging above $140, he launched the “Pickens plan” to cut US dependence on imported crude by developing natural gas and wind power.

The plan was a commercial flop. Wind power proved slower to take off than Mr Pickens had hoped, and the US shale oil boom that began in 2010 undercut the urgency of finding ways to reduce imports of crude. Natural gas vehicles have made little headway in the US.

In predicting the broad outlines of how US energy was changing, however, Mr Pickens was absolutely right. Last year, all the new power generation capacity installed in the US was either in gas-fired plants or renewable energy.

More recently, Mr Pickens has stressed the importance of gas rather than wind power. He is a supporter of President Donald Trump, and last June praised the decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement, describing it as “another bad deal negotiated by the Obama administration.”

He was reported to have hosted financial backers of Mr Trump at his Mesa Vista ranch in October, and is expected to be involved in fundraising for Republicans in the midterm elections next year.

He will also continue his philanthropic work. He has given away more than $1bn in charitable donations during his career, including about $200m to his alma mater, Oklahoma State University, to refurbish its football stadium. In his offices on the outskirts of Dallas, among framed magazine covers featuring Mr Pickens, there is a spectacular aerial view of the stadium packed with fans in the university’s orange colours.

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