BP Still Can't Win for Losing

London-based BP (NYSE: BP  ) -- which may forever be known primarily as the company responsible for a string of major mishaps, including a massive Texas refinery explosion in the middle of the past decade and a huge Gulf of Mexico rig explosion and oil leak two years ago -- did nothing to indicate a turnaround of its fortunes when it released its second-quarter 2012 results Tuesday.

For the quarter, the company was hit with charges totaling $4.8 billion, most of which were related to a writedown of refineries and shale assets in the United States, along with its having shelved its $1.5 billion Liberty project offshore Alaska. The charges were largely responsible for a loss of $1.4 billion for the quarter, compared with earnings of $5.7 billion for the second quarter of 2011. Revenue fell 9% to $95 billion.

The weakest of the weak
The extent of the company's charges rendered its results far more puny than the unimpressive earnings turned in by its peers. For instance, France's Total (NYSE: TOT  ) , a generally comparable European company, saw its earnings slip by 9% year over year, but came in flat against analysts' estimates. Total was affected by a 2% decline in its overall production and a 7% slide in its Brent crude price realizations. Its average realized natural gas price climbed by 8% from the year-ago quarter.

Aside from TNK-BP, the Russian joint venture that BP shares equally with a group of that country's oligarchs -- and which it is trying to unload -- the British company's production fell by about 7% in the quarter to approximately 2.3 million barrels of oil equivalent per day. The average price it received for a barrel of crude shrank by $8.75, or 7.4%. However, after backing out the effects of divestments and production-sharing agreements, the drop in production was 2.7% year over year. The company's U.S. production plummeted by 25%, indicating continued weakness in its once-impressive Gulf of Mexico operations.

Still paying through the nose
BP continues to pay for its past accidents. During the quarter, the company paid an extra pre-tax charge of $847 million relating to its April 2010 disaster aboard Transocean's (NYSE: RIG  ) Deepwater Horizon rig. In addition, BP made a $1.25 billion contribution toward the $20 billion trust it agreed to establish following the incident. CEO Bob Dudley expects it to make another $1.25 billion contribution during the third quarter, followed by an $860 million completion in the fourth quarter of the year.

Following the close of the quarter, BP agreed to pay another $13 million to settle safety violation charges relating to the 2005 explosion at its Texas City, Texas refinery. That incident killed 15 and injured untold others. In 2010 it cost BP $50 million to settle claims for violations alleged by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

And just days ago, a Siberian court ordered BP to pay $3 billion in damages to TNK-BP resulting from BP's unsuccessful 2011 effort to partner with the country's state-run oil company Rosneft to jointly explore the Russian Arctic. That agreement ultimately was squelched by litigation brought by the Russian billionaires who own half of TNK-BP. The oligarchs, who operate under the name Alfa-Access-Renova, successfully claimed in British court that BP's deal with Rosneft violated the terms of the TNK-BP venture.

The Siberian ruling was based on a lawsuit by a Russian minority shareholder, Andrey Prokhorov, who maintained that BP's attempted combination with Rosneft had damaged the value of TNK-BP. "We consider the court decision as unjustified," a spokesman for BP said following of the verdict. "Today's ruling will be challenged in the court of appeal. All the plaintiff's arguments are based on absurd assumptions and are not related to either the company's interests or the interests of its shareholders."

Dudley's difficulties
On a call following his company's release of its quarterly results, Dudley, who replaced Tony Hayward as CEO following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, said that the two biggest uncertainties overhanging his company are a pending January trial on charges brought against the company by the U.S. Justice Department and the company's circumstances in Russia. The latter reference was to BP's effort to dispose of its stake in TNK- BP, the third-largest oil company in Russian and the supplier of nearly a third of BP's total production.

Rosneft, which has entered into a partnership agreement with ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) and Norway's Statoil (NYSE: STO  ) , has expressed an interest in acquiring BP's stake in the joint venture. A half interest in the partnership appears to be worth up to $30 billion.

The Foolish bottom line
It's perhaps easy to consider BP's relatively low 7.2 times forward P/E -- ExxonMobil's is 11 times -- and its 4.6% indicated forwarded annual dividend and label the company's shares "cheap." However, given our current topsy-turvy energy world, where geopolitics and economics both deny precise analysis, my inclination is to sit on my wallet relative to BP. At the same time, I'd urge energy investors -- which should include most Fools -- to add the company to My Watchlist.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares of any of the companies named in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Transocean and ExxonMobil. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Total and Statoil. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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