BP: Worth Watching?

BP's (NYSE: BP  ) June results, reported on Tuesday, were at best ho-hum, but with the company's recent history, it would have been a stretch to have anticipated anything else.

Net income for the company was up 1.5% in the quarter to $7.38 billion, from $7.27 billion a year earlier. But this year's results included the effects of a sale of the company's Coryton refinery, along with other asset disposals. Revenues were essentially flat at $73.1 billion, and the company's production level declined 5% year over year to approximately 3.8 million barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) a day.

As I've noted, those results were probably as good as could be expected from a company with BP's snakebit recent history. A long list of misfortunes has battered this venerable company, including an explosion at its Texas City, Texas, refinery that killed 15 workers and injured scores more, and protracted outages at other refineries. There was also an Alaskan oil spill resulting from a corroded pipeline, along with 2005 hurricane damage to its big Gulf of Mexico Thunder Horse production platform, which delayed that facility's production start-up.

As if that weren't enough, the company's longtime CEO Lord John Brown stepped down abruptly this spring amid allegations about his private life. And more recently, BP was pressured by Russian authorities to sell much of its stake in a big natural gas field to state-run gas company OAO Gazprom.

At the same, BP's having to operate in a climate shared by all other producers, including ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) , Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) , Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) and the smallest independents. That climate is characterized by, among other things, falling North American production rates, the need to cast about for oil and gas in progressively remote areas of the globe, declining production in may of the world's major fields, and increasing geopolitical unpredictability.

But the key to BP, it seems to me, is what lies ahead. After all, the company continues to have a position -- albeit smaller than before -- in Russia's huge Kovykta gas field. It also has an interesting new deal in Libya, its refinery throughput will return to normal shortly, and its Gulf of Mexico production is destined to be ramped up.

In the meantime, the company trades at a distinct P/E discount to ExxonMobil (not to mention the general market). It also boasts a return on equity near 25%, which is better than ConocoPhillips' (NYSE: COP  ) , and starts shareholders off with a dividend yield above 3%.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own a single share in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions or comments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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