LONDON, April 12 (Reuters) - Two years on from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and BP suffered a significant shareholder rebellion over bosses pay on Thursday, the price of a share performance and dividend payout that languishes well below pre-spill levels.
The company comfortably won a vote at its Annual General Meeting on adoption of its remuneration report, but investors representing 11.78 percent of shares voted against — a bigger rebellion than usually accompanies such events for big UK companies.
“I would like to see the pay and the over-all packages executives receive reduced,” said shareholder Robert Hewitt, 68. “When you have a spill of the magnitude we had, you’ve got to tighten your belt and management need to tighten their belts too”.
Oil spills aside, soaring executive pay as average wages fall short of inflation rates has become a hot topic.
BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley’s compensation jumped three-fold last year to $6.8 million, while other top executives also enjoyed large increases.
Another shareholder told the meeting the benefits were “pernicious.”.
But Antony Burgmans, chairman of the remuneration committee, defended the payout structures saying they aimed to “further align the interests of managers with shareholders” and that “shareholders embraced” the compensation scheme when it was first unveiled.
BP’s shares traded at 446 pence on Thursday - around 30 percent below the pre-spill levels. Its dividend is 8 cents/share a quarter compares with 14 pence before the rig blast the killed 11 men and led to the spill.
Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg also faced some criticism regarding his performance during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and 7.2 percent of investors voted against his reappointment. Usually directors are reappointed with around 98 percent of the vote.
BP also face protests from environmental groups, mainly related to its investments in Canada’s tar sands. Seven activists had to be carried out after lying on the floor of the auditorium holding signs saying “Killed by tar sands”.
Tar sands are controversial because the process of converting bitumen-soaked soil into crude uses a lot more energy and water than normal oil production.
A group of campaigners also travelled from the Gulf of Mexico coast to challenge perceptions that the crisis there is over.
“The oil is not gone,” said Derrick Evans from Gulfport Mississippi said.
The company was also criticised for its sponsorship of the London Olympics, but head of refining and fuel marketing Iain Conn said he expected the being a “Tier 1” sponsor would boost BP’s image with the public and potential business partners.
BP also used the AGM to put forward a message or renewal.
Svanberg has replaced 80 percent of BP’s non-executives since his appointment in 2010 — four months before the rig blast. One departure, effective Thursday, was Bill Castell, the former head of BP’s safety committee, whose reappointment was opposed by 25 percent of investors last year.
BP is predicting strong growth in cashflow and has hinted at further increases in the dividend, which was cut in the wake of the rig blast.
However, analysts fear the disaster still hobbles the group and will prevent it from growing as quickly as its rivals. Its shares have lagged rivals so far this year, falling 2.8 percent, against a 1.0 percent drop in the STOXX Europe 600 Oil and Gas index.
BP continues to face legal action in the United States where the Department of Justice could saddle it with fines worth over $20 billion unless it can cut a deal. Svanberg said the company would settle out of court if it could get a fair deal.