BP’s profit nearly tripled in the first quarter of 2017 from a year earlier, buoyed by rising oil prices and production that hit a five-year high, while debt piled up in order to pay for acquisitions and costs for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill.
The British oil and gas company joined oil major rivals including Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Total in posting stronger-than-expected quarterly earnings, mostly thanks to higher oil and gas prices.
Oil prices rose by 50 percent in the past year to around $54 a barrel in the first quarter.
BP expects prices to average between $50 and $55 a barrel in 2017, heading to the higher end of the range if OPEC and major producing countries extend production cuts into the second half of the year, Chief Financial Officer Brian Gilvary told Reuters.
The results could assuage some concerns among investors, who were jolted when BP in February raised the oil price at which it could balance its books this year to $60 a barrel after a string of investments that pushed up borrowing.
Three years since the oil prices slumped from above $100 a barrel and after BP slashed costs with lay-offs and project delays, investors want to see cash generation to cover spending and dividend payouts, while reducing ballooning debt.
BP’s shares were trading 2.4 percent higher at 07:21 GMT, the biggest winner on London’s bluechip FTSE 100 index.
“The results are positive,” Cenkos Securities analysts wrote, but adding that “gearing is creeping up towards the max of the 20-30 percent target range, although divestments, including the recent $1.7 billion SECCO sale in China, should help.”
Net debt rose 9 percent in the quarter to $38.6 billion, lifting BP’s gearing of net debt to shareholders’ equity from 26 percent to 28 percent, closer to its ceiling of 30 percent.
“The debt was always going to rise in the first half of the year and the 28 percent gearing, frankly, that doesn’t cause any problems at all,” Gilvary said.
To keep oil prices buoyant, oil companies want the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia
and other producers to extend their global pact to reduce production for another six months from June 30.
“If they don’t get rolled into the second half of the year we will continue to see more (price) volatility,” Gilvary said.
London-based BP is set to start up seven projects this year, including in Oman and Azerbaijan, the largest number in a single year in BP’s history. It hopes to add 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) of new production by the end of the decade.