BP fails to convince investors on strategy

LONDON Tue Jul 26, 2011 12:50pm EDT

BP's Chief Executive Bob Dudley speaks to the media after year-end results were announced at the energy company's headquarters in London February 1, 2011. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

BP's Chief Executive Bob Dudley speaks to the media after year-end results were announced at the energy company's headquarters in London February 1, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

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LONDON (Reuters) - BP Plc Chief Executive Bob Dudley's pledge of strong long-term growth failed to reassure investors concerned about the company's post-oil spill strategy and second-quarter results well shy of forecasts.

A year after BP, Europe's second-largest oil company by market capitalization, staunched the massive leak at its Gulf of Mexico well, some investors say Dudley has still not set the company on the road to recovery.

He sought to address that concern on Tuesday, saying deals to secure new reserves this year would help drive performance in 2012, 2013 and beyond. But some analysts were unimpressed.

"Other companies have clearly re-defined their strategies over the last 12 to 24 months .. ExxonMobil continues to build its shale gas business in the U.S. and Shell is focused on mega gas projects. But what is BP doing?" Dougie Youngson, oil analyst at Arbuthnot, said in an email to clients.

The oil major's shares were down 2.5 percent at 1452 GMT (10:52 a.m. EDT), one of the biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 index of blue-chip stocks. The STOXX Europe 600 Oil and Gas index was down 0.6 percent.

Investors are frustrated at the share price which has failed to recover materially in the past nine months, despite some progress in oil spill lawsuits and indications the final cost to the company will be less than many had feared. The dividend is also currently only half the pre-spill level.

On top of that, a failed $16 billion share swap and Arctic exploration deal with Russia's Rosneft has left investors questioning whether the company has a credible plan to access new resources.

BP said oil and gas production fell by 11 percent in the quarter to 3.43 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, with sales of fields to pay for the spill accounting for a third of the drop.

Dudley acknowledged investor anxiety.

"We feel a great sense of urgency around where our share price is .. Shareholders, I think, also are impatient," he told a press conference.

But he reiterated that BP's priority this year was to consolidate its financial and operational position, namely by settling legal and judicial claims related to the spill.

"It is important for us to continue to reduce the uncertainties the company faces, particularly in the U.S., before we would be in a position to increase the dividend," he added.

Some analysts, bankers and investors are beginning to ask whether the best way for BP to address its valuation discount is to break itself up.

U.S. rivals ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil and Murphy Oil have followed strategies of spinning off their oil refining and fuel retail units.

Dudley said he would not rule anything in or out but played down the chances of an upstream-downstream breakup. Refining boss Iain Conn defended BP's integrated business model to reporters: "This type of company has an offer to the world."

Nonetheless, the company is selling half its U.S. refining capacity and said it was making progress on the sale of its Texas City and Carson, California plants.

Some bankers and analysts have also suggested BP sell off its Russian and U.S. assets to focus on high-growth international oil and gas production.

BP's underlying second-quarter results fell short of analysts' forecasts and benefited less than rivals from a 50 percent rise in crude prices from a year ago.

Replacement cost net income was $5.31 billion, compared with a loss of $16.97 billion in the same period last year that included a charge for tackling the spill.

Excluding one-offs, the replacement cost net income was up 13 percent to $5.61 billion, below an average forecast of $6.02 billion from a Reuters poll of 12 analysts.

Smaller rival BG Group announced a 27 percent rise in underlying earnings on Tuesday while larger rivals Exxon and Shell are both expected to post a 50 percent rise in underlying net income.

"For the Bulls on BP there is little in today's results to get excited about," analysts at Bernstein said in a research note.

The London-based company said maintenance work in the North Sea and Angola and continued outages in the Gulf of Mexico had weighed on results in the quarter and would continue to impact performance in the second half of the year.

The company again increased its estimate for the cost of dealing with the spill, adding around $500 million to the bill, although contributions of $1.1. billion from partners allowed the total charge taken by BP to be reduced.

The company said it hoped to return to drilling new wells in the Gulf by the end of the year.

(Editing by Erica Billingham)

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