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BP woos investors with share buybacks as profits soar

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BP logo
BP logo

BP is returning cash to its legions of shareholders through a $500m (£360m) share buyback scheme after profits were boosted by the global economic recovery.

The oil behemoth made a profit of $2.6bn for the first three months of 2021, triple what it earned a year earlier. Much of this improvement was driven by BP's gas trading division, which benefited from market swings in North America and higher crude prices.

Oil fell sharply last year when demand was crushed by Covid lockdowns around the world, with Brent crude dropping as low as $21 a barrel. It has since recovered to pre-pandemic levels of about $66.

Bernard Looney, chief executive, said the results showed that BP can still throw off money to benefit its thousands of retail investors, even while seeking to slash carbon emissions from its drilling operations to net zero by 2050.

He said: “The main question on investors’ minds was whether it was possible for us to deliver competitive cash returns while cutting debt and transitioning the company for a low-carbon future and that is understandable.

“People were questioning this and today’s results are important because it shows we can do both, that we've nailed that.”

The energy giant has reduced its debt pile by more than $18bn over the past year to $33bn - meaning its debt reduction plan is one year ahead of schedule - through cost cuts and the sale of oil fields.

BP used to burn up to $26bn a year in capital spending as it sought to find and develop new sources of fossil fuels, but that has been halved.

The $500m share buyback will take place in the second quarter. Some analysts estimate that BP will announce buybacks of between $1.2bn and $2bn this year.

Shares were 0.7pc higher at 298.6p in afternoon trading.

Mr Looney has been at the helm of BP for a year after taking over from Bob Dudley.

Last summer he put together a new strategy and financial framework for the company in which the dividend was cut in half.

BP promised to return surplus cash to shareholders through a combination of share buybacks and dividend payments in a bid to keep investors onside.

Earlier this year BP made its debut into offshore wind after taking part in the Crown Estate’s first offshore leasing round held in more than a decade.

The auction sparked criticism for the vast sums paid by developers to secure the sites, which risks pushing up development costs and ultimately increasing prices for consumers.

BP's Chief Executive Bernard Looney - REUTERS/Toby Melville
BP's Chief Executive Bernard Looney - REUTERS/Toby Melville

BP, together with German partner EnBW, won the seabed rights to two offshore wind developments and will pay £231m a year in fees to the Crown Estate while the wind farms are in development.

Mr Looney said: “People say we overpaid but we didn't overpay and I would pay exactly the same tomorrow for those same licences.

“It’s like buying the same house on two different streets. The Irish sea is a much better street because it has better wind resources, it is in shallower water, closer to shore and the two blocks we have leased are synergistic as they are right next to each other.

"We will build and connect that into our business into the UK to charge our hydrogen facility and our electric charging network, which other companies don’t have. While some wished they had won and didn’t, there are plenty of others that would love to come in at the prices we paid.”

BP is also investing in electric car charging networks across Europe and hopes to become a retail electricity provider to homes and businesses in several in the US.