I'll also be asking whether these negative factors make the FTSE 100 oil supermajor a poor investment today.
Dismal safety record
One line of thinking since BP's disastrous rig blast and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 is that the company is now a good investment because it won't make the same kind of blunder again in a hurry. There were investors who argued the same thesis after BP's Texas City refinery exploded in 2005.
It appears to be difficult to quickly rectify systemic problems in the safety culture of a company. Despite the wake-up call of the Texas blast, BP reportedly went on to account for a whopping 97% of all flagrant violations of U.S. refinery safety rules between 2007 and 2010.
Global oil companies, by their nature, tend to operate in some of the world's more politically volatile areas.
BP's determination to have a substantial and long-term interest in Russia has been lucrative to date. Nevertheless, I consider the risk of political interference in Russia to be far from insignificant. The level of BP's exposure would strike a weighty blow to the group if things did take a political turn for the worse.
Three years on from the Gulf of Mexico disaster, BP acknowledges that there continues to be "significant uncertainty regarding the extent and timing of the remaining costs and liabilities". The company says the uncertainty is "likely to continue for a significant period", and that the costs and liabilities could have "a material adverse impact" on the group's business, including its competitive position, cash flows, and shareholder returns.
A poor investment?
A recent share price of 447 pence puts BP on a current-year forecast price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of a mere eight and a chunky dividend yield of 5.4%. On those ratings, you might be inclined to think that BP's particular issues are already discounted in the price.
However, Royal Dutch Shell, recently trading at 2,166 pence a share, is on a near-identical P/E and yield, while appearing on the face of it to be a less risky proposition.
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G.A. Chester has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.