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BP - strong third quarter growth, mixed outlook for final quarter

BP's third quarter revenues rose 52% to $55.0bn year-on-year, but below last quarter's total of $67.9m.

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BP's third quarter revenues rose 52% to $55.0bn year-on-year, but below last quarter's total of $67.9m.That reflected lower sales in gas & low carbon and also the customers and products division, which includes BP's network of service stations.

Underlying operating profit of $8.2bn was almost 2.5 times higher than last year.

BP generated free cash flow of $5.2bn up from $3.3bn compared to last year. Net debt was $22.0bn down from $32.0bn.

BP has announced a $2.5bn extension to its share buyback programme which makes the full year total $8.5bn.

For the fourth quarter, BP now expects upstream production to be slightly lower than last quarter, driven mainly by gas. In customers and products, it's expecting lower marketing margins and a seasonal fall in volumes. It also notes ongoing global economic uncertainty.

Refining margins are expected to remain high. This will be partly offset by high raw material costs and the impact of the closure of its Toledo refinery in Ohio.

BP's continuing efforts to increase its renewable energy credentials and rebalance the oil and gas portfolio. This includes the recently proposed $3.3bn acquisition of Archaea Energy, a US biogas company.

The shares were unmoved following the announcement.

View the latest BP share price and how to deal

Our View

Buoyant oil prices are feeding though to massive cash flows, more than offsetting BP's capital investment. It's also allowed some substantial shareholder returns and given the group space to pay down debt.

Indebtedness, as measured by gearing, has been heading in the right direction. Surplus cash is still outpacing planned buybacks too, which supports the shareholder returns programme. Buybacks have also helped keep the dividend affordable. We should note that current buyback and dividend plans rest on the oil price remaining elevated, which BP has no control over. No dividend is ever guaranteed.

Legacy oil & gas assets are what's been keeping the cash flowing for now. That's being aided by robust production volumes this year, despite the sale of Russian joint ventures. M&A in this area's focussed on improving the quality of the group's oil & gas assets to expand margins, while production slowly drops over the next decade.

There is growing pressure globally for more meaningful windfall taxes on the currently inflated profits of oil and gas profits. This is a risk to BP's ability to sustain such high cash flows, and it already expects a charge in 2022 of about $800m relating to the UK energy profits levy on its North Sea operations.

Looking further ahead, BP has big plans to increase exposure to renewable and lower carbon energy sources. Though keeping an oil & gas giant running doesn't come cheap, let alone expanding into new areas. If the Archaea Energy acquisition completes this year, it expects to push full year capex towards $15.5bn, which according to previous guidance is the kind of level we can expect each year out to 2025, with about a third earmarked for the division which houses BPs renewable activities. That said, opportunities such as Archaea provide established profitable platforms which we believe BP has the resources to scale up.

The new strategy calls for huge increase in renewable generating capacity, big increases in biofuel and hydrogen output, increased focus on its petrol station convenience offering and continued investment in electric vehicle charging. Meanwhile the carbon intensity of the group's remaining oil & gas assets will fall.

Recent investments in wind farms, electric vehicle charging stations and hydrogen projects and biogas are all aimed at capturing a slice of the energy transition pie.

This more aggressive approach to the transition could prove to be an inspiring one. However, we worry that BP may be swapping high returning, high quality oil & gas fields for low returning renewables with an unproven track record.

Neither BP nor the global energy mix will be free of oil & gas products for years to come, and investing in renewables could be a bit of a money pit in the short term. That could make for a difficult few years if oil prices slide.

BP key facts

All ratios are sourced from Refinitiv. Please remember yields are variable and not a reliable indicator of future income. Keep in mind key figures shouldn't be looked at on their own - it's important to understand the big picture.

This article is original Hargreaves Lansdown content, published by Hargreaves Lansdown. It was correct as at the date of publication, and our views may have changed since then. Unless otherwise stated estimates, including prospective yields, are a consensus of analyst forecasts provided by Refinitiv. These estimates are not a reliable indicator of future performance. Yields are variable and not guaranteed. Investments rise and fall in value so investors could make a loss.

This article is not advice or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any investment. No view is given on the present or future value or price of any investment, and investors should form their own view on any proposed investment. This article has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and is considered a marketing communication. Non-independent research is not subject to FCA rules prohibiting dealing ahead of research, however HL has put controls in place (including dealing restrictions, physical and information barriers) to manage potential conflicts of interest presented by such dealing. Please see our full non-independent research disclosure for more information.

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Written by
Derren Nathan
Derren Nathan
Head of Equity Research

Derren leads our Equity Research team with more than 15 years of experience in his field. Thriving in a passionate environment, Derren finds motivation in intellectual challenges and exploring diverse ideas within his writing.

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Article history
Published: 1st November 2022