BP profits surge as oil and gas prices bounce back

LONDON — Soaring oil and gas prices tied to the global economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic helped bolster British oil giant BP’s third-quarter profits, the company said today.

BP said its underlying replacement cost profits — the industry standard — jumped to $3.3 billion in the three months ending in September, up from just $86 million in the same period a year earlier, when oil prices had slumped because of the pandemic. The third-quarter figure also was an increase of 18% from the previous quarter’s $2.8 billion and ahead of analysts’ expectations of about $3.1 billion.

“This has been another good quarter for BP — our businesses are generating strong underlying earnings and cash flow while maintaining their focus on safe and reliable operations,” BP chief executive Bernard Looney said.

With its finances in better health, the company said it would reward shareholders with a $1.25 billion share-buyback program, which it said will be completed before it announces its full-year results.

Analysts questioned whether that was a good use of money, especially as world leaders have gathered in the Scottish city of Glasgow for a U.N. climate summit known as COP26 where the focus is on how to reduce carbon emissions.

“Generosity in good times is all well and good, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of long-term financial stability, particularly given the considerable spending on renewable and low-carbon projects that’s likely over the coming years,” said Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown in London.

For now, it’s clear that the oil business can be extremely lucrative if the price backdrop is favorable. Like others in the sector, BP has benefited from rising oil and gas prices in recent months, compared with last year when they fell sharply following the onset of the pandemic.

The company said it expects oil prices to remain supported over the coming months as inventory levels continue to be drawn down and as customers switch from gas to oil given the sharper price increases seen in wholesale gas markets.

BP said that if the international Brent crude oil measure remains above $60 a barrel, it should be able to buy back around $1 billion shares each quarter and increase its dividend by 4% annually through 2025.

It also said it has continued paying down its debt, which had jumped in early 2020 amid the oil price collapse. Its net debt stood at $32 billion, down from $32.7 billion at the end of the second quarter.