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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 February 2006, 07:46 GMT
Challenges facing Britain's oil giant
By Jon Cronin
BBC News business reporter

BP petrol station
BP is in robust shape, but faces challenges to future growth

When Britain's biggest company reports its annual profits, the markets generally sit up and listen.

BP is a corporate giant, one of a handful of UK companies with truly global clout, and a barometer of the wider health of the oil industry.

Surging world crude prices have helped boost the oil firm's fortunes, and BP has just unveiled 2005 full-year profits of $19.31bn (11.04bn).

That marks a heady leap from the previous year's profits of $16.2bn.

But 2005 has also been a bruising year for BP.

The company was forced to deal with the fallout of a fatal fire in March at its huge Texas City refinery in the US, as well as disruption later in the year to its oil production in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Russian venture

BP's full-year figures failed to top those of Anglo-Dutch rival Shell, which last week reported annual profits of $22.94bn - a record for a UK-listed company.

What we want to see from BP is the evidence of what they are investing in in the medium to long term
Matthew Lanstone, senior oil analyst, Goldman Sachs

But BP remains the bigger of Europe's two leading oil producers when measured by stock market value, and is currently worth $239bn to Shell's $222bn.

BP has scored some notable successes in recent years, including its move into the massive oil fields of Russia through a lucrative 2003 joint venture with Russian oil company TNK.

TNK-BP currently accounts for roughly a quarter of BP's overall production of about 4 million barrels a day.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs estimate that the UK firm has already recouped some $3.6bn from a total investment of less than $10bn.

Growth in upstream production - the amount of oil BP actually extracts from the ground - is also expected to remain strong over the coming two to three years.

Future oil

Despite setbacks along the US Gulf Coast - BP warned investors last month that the damage caused by the recent devastating hurricane season would cost it more than $1bn in 2005 - the company still expects to benefit from its presence in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP chief executive Lord Browne
Lord Browne has worked to boost BP's presence in Russia

BP's giant Thunder Horse and Atlantis operations in the region, the former of which was damaged by Hurricane Dennis last year, are at last expected to start pumping oil later this year.

The company is also beginning to see oil flow from its drilling platforms in the Caspian Sea and in the waters off Angola.

But analysts warn that, in the coming years, the picture for BP may not entirely be a rosy one.

The success of its Russian interests somewhat overshadow industry projections for a dip in oil production elsewhere in the company.


Investment bank Goldman Sachs estimates that, excluding TNK-BP, production will have fallen by 3% in 2005 from 2004.

BP needs to spend more on developing oil resources in order to meet the "challenge" of boosting its growth performance, says Matthew Lanstone, a senior oil analyst with Goldman Sachs.

"What we want to see from BP is the evidence of what they are investing in in the medium to long term," he says.

BP's exposure to the "uncertainties" of Russian politics is also a point of concern, analysts at Deutsche Bank said in a recent research note.

BP chief executive Lord Browne flew to Moscow in April last year for talks with President Vladimir Putin to "clarify" the position of foreign investors after TNK-BP was hit with a $936m government demand for back taxes.

Moscow's flexing of its muscles in the energy sector - which saw state-owned firm Gazprom temporarily cut off gas supplies to neighbouring Ukraine - as well as new rules for the foreign ownership of Russian companies and export tax rises, all have implications for BP.

But while the potential pickings from Russia's vast resources remain so rich, and as long as the powers that be allow BP to profit from the oil that flows, it is unlikely that BP's bosses will be having any immediate second thoughts about their Russian venture.

Why record profits are not all good news for the oil industry

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