Perhaps now the tail will stop wagging the dog. Accounting for about a fifth of group profits, BP’s downstream business has generated a disproportionate share of headlines over the past year – many of them negative. At least it managed to beat analysts’ forecasts in the oil major’s latest quarterly results. Headlines have recently focused on another angle for the downstream business: why not spin it off? BP is a conglomerate, after all. Pure refiners and upstream stocks have left the larger integrateds in the dust over the past couple of years. BP’s management must be bemused by the fact that shares in their diversified colossus are rated similarly to all manner of one-track minnows.
Right now, the latter’s leverage to rampant commodity prices and potential for pleasant surprises, such as exploration success for upstream independents, holds a peculiar fascination for the equity markets. But BP’s traditional premium is based on the strength of its integrated model and will be restored when reality bites and frothy valuations elsewhere subside. Its latest results were, in that sense, reassuringly boring. The rehabilitation of the Texas City refinery and upstream production expansion from the second half of this year should add further momentum.
In an energy market in awe of geopolitical developments rather than supply/demand fundamentals, a general correction remains a real risk. That would, of course, hurt the whole sector. But BP, yielding 10 per cent this year including buy-backs, is on a firmer footing than most.
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