639366-01-08-(Read-Only) BP generic
BP said it expects oil and European gas prices to remain strong in the second quarter. Image Credit: AFP

London: BP made a profit of $5 billion in the first quarter of 2023, up from the previous three months on the back of stellar oil and gas trading, but the company’s shares fell as it slowed a share buyback programme.

BP’s results, which beat forecasts, follow a strong showing by rivals including Exxon Mobil and Chevron last week as oil majors continue to benefit from energy prices that remain elevated despite some softening since the start of the year.

BP’s shares, however, were around 5 per cent lower by 1147 GMT (3.47pm UAE time) - compared with a drop of around 1.55 per cent for an index of European oil companies - after it said it would repurchase $1.75 billion worth of shares over the next three months, down from $2.75 billion in the previous three.

The smaller target is a result of a significant drop in operating cash flow to $7.6 billion during the quarter from $13.5 billion in the final quarter of 2022.

BP will still exceeded its goal of using 60 per cent of surplus cash to buy its own shares, but investors were disappointed.

The lower share buyback “will more than offset the good operational performance as BP is the first international oil company...to cut buybacks this quarter”, Jefferies analysts said in a note.

The London-based company repurchased a total of $11.7 billion worth of shares in 2022.

Exceptional trading

First-quarter underlying replacement cost profit, BP’s definition of net income, reached $4.96 billion, up from $4.8 billion in the fourth quarter of 2022 and above expectations of $4.3 billion in a company-provided survey of analysts.

The profit reflects “an exceptional gas marketing and trading result, a lower level of refinery turnaround activity and a very strong oil trading result”, BP said, noting the partial offset from lower oil and gas prices and refining margins.

Benchmark Brent crude oil prices averaged $81 per barrel in the first three months of the year, down 16 per cent from a year earlier and 7 per cent from the fourth-quarter.

BP had reported a $6.25 billion profit in the first quarter of 2022, on its way to a record $28 billion year.

Its dividend remained unchanged at 6.61 cents per share after a 10 per cent increase in February. BP had previously halved its payout in the wake of the pandemic.

Windfall tax

BP said it expects oil and European gas prices to remain strong in the second quarter even as refining profit margins are expected to weaken due to lower diesel prices.

Fuel demand in Europe has been “a little bit” soft while consumption in China has been strong following the lifting of pandemic restrictions, BP Chief Financial Officer Murray Auchincloss told analysts on a call.