BP halves div­i­dend af­ter record loss, speeds up rein­ven­tion

The Star Malaysia - StarBiz - - Front Page -

LONDON: BP cut its div­i­dend for the first time in a decade af­ter a record Us$6.7bil sec­ond-quar­ter loss, when the coro­n­avirus cri­sis ham­mered fuel de­mand, and it sought to win over in­vestors by speed­ing up its rein­ven­tion as a lower car­bon com­pany.

Its shares rose more than 7% yes­ter­day af­ter BP un­veiled ear­lier than ex­pected a plan to re­duce its oil and gas out­put by 40% and boost in­vest­ments in re­new­able en­ergy, such as wind and so­lar, over the next decade.

All ma­jor oil com­pa­nies suf­fered in the sec­ond quar­ter as lock­downs to con­tain the new coro­n­avirus lim­ited travel and oil prices fell to their low­est in two decades.

Sev­eral, in­clud­ing Royal Dutch Shell and Nor­way’s Equinor, cut their div­i­dend in re­sponse.

BP CEO Bernard Looney, who took the helm in Fe­bru­ary, avoided a div­i­dend cut in the first quar­ter de­spite wors­en­ing mar­ket con­di­tions and as ri­vals re­duced their pay­outs.

But yes­ter­day’s 50% cut by BP to 5.25 US cents per share, which was larger than the 40% forecast by an­a­lysts, be­came in­evitable given a large debt pile, the col­lapse in oil and gas de­mand and grow­ing ex­pec­ta­tions for a slug­gish global eco­nomic re­cov­ery.

BP’S net loss was in line with an­a­lysts’ ex­pec­ta­tions and was largely a re­sult of the com­pany’s de­ci­sion to wipe Us$6.5bil off the value of oil and gas ex­plo­ration as­sets af­ter it re­vised its price fore­casts.

BP recorded to­tal im­pair­ments of Us$17.4bil, at the up­per end of its pre­vi­ous guid­ance.

“Th­ese head­line re­sults have been driven by an­other very chal­leng­ing quar­ter, but also by the de­lib­er­ate steps we have taken as we con­tinue to re-imag­ine en­ergy and rein­vent BP,” Looney said in a state­ment.

“In par­tic­u­lar, our re­set of long-term price as­sump­tions and the re­lated im­pair­ment and ex­plo­ration write-off charges had a ma­jor im­pact.”

The loss, based on BP’S cur­rent ac­count­ing def­i­ni­tion, is the first recorded on Refini­tiv Eikon data. Looney called it the “tough­est quar­ter in the in­dus­try’s his­tory”.

As the in­vest­ment cli­mate turns away from car­bon-in­ten­sive fos­sil fuel, Looney had planned to un­veil BP’S new strat­egy in Septem­ber. In­stead, the com­pany an­nounced de­tails yes­ter­day.

It said it would in­crease its low-car­bon spend­ing 10-fold by 2030 ver­sus cur­rent lev­els to Us$5bil a year out of a to­tal bud­get of around Us$15bil and boost its re­new­able power gen­er­a­tion to 50 gi­gawatts.

Over the same time­frame, it plans to shrink its oil and gas pro­duc­tion by at least 1 mil­lion bar­rels of oil equiv­a­lent per day com­pared with 2019.

To hone its port­fo­lio, BP tar­gets di­vest­ments of Us$25bil be­tween 2020 and 2025, around Us$12bil of which are al­ready lined up.

It would re­tain its 19.75% stake in Rus­sia’s Ros­neft , it said.

While oil and gas are dom­i­nant, Red­burn’s eq­uity an­a­lyst Stu­art Joyner said the strate­gic shift was en­cour­ag­ing.

“There will be in­evitable ques­tions over prof­itabil­ity of new low car­bon in­vest­ments,” he said. “But BP is now firmly lead­ing the sec­tor in terms of tran­si­tion­ing its busi­ness to a lower car­bon fu­ture.”

BP, which paid out a to­tal of Us$7.2bil in div­i­dends last year, be­came the largest div­i­dend payer on the London FTSE stock ex­change af­ter Royal Dutch Shell cut its div­i­dend for the first time since the 1940 ear­lier this year.

BP last re­duced its div­i­dend in 2010, when it was sus­pended for three quar­ters fol­low­ing the deadly Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon rig ex­plo­sion.

It holds Us$40.9bil in net debt af­ter rais­ing Us$19bil in new debt in the sec­ond quar­ter, more than any of its peers.

Its debt-to-eq­uity ra­tio, known as gear­ing, at 33.1% ex­ceeds its own target and places it at risk of a down­grade by rating agen­cies.

BP said it aimed to “re­set a re­silient div­i­dend” of 5.25 US cents per share per quar­ter and to re­turn at least 60% of fu­ture sur­plus cash as share buy­backs.

BP’S sec­ond-quar­ter un­der­ly­ing re­place­ment cost loss, the com­pany’s def­i­ni­tion of net in­come, reached Us$6.7bil, roughly in line with fore­casts.

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