BP (NYSE:BP) CEO Bob Dudley provided a bullish view on the oil business in a recent Wall Street Journal piece, pointing out that the U.S. is becoming a powerful force in the energy market thanks to advances in technologies like fracking and horizontal drilling.
Of course, BP itself — still mired in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster — could use a little bit of positive sentiment. The stock price has reflected this — BP shares have missed the 2013 bull market, shedding 2% year-to-date, and have averaged a loss of more than 7% annually in the past three years. This compares to 12.85% for Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM), 18.48% for ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) and 20.69% for Chevron (NYSE:CVX).
Still, BP might be nearing closure on the Deepwater front, with its trial now in its fourth week, and it’s certainly cheap right now. So, should you buy BP as a bargain play, or continue to leave it alone? To see, we’ll look at BP’s pros and cons:
Safety: Surprise, surprise, this has become a major priority at BP. The company has invested heavily in implementing new procedures and systems to help reduce risk. For example, there is now a 24/7 central command center in Houston that monitors every well in the Gulf of Mexico. BP also has focused on improving in areas like drill safety, as well as techniques for capping, containment and spill response.
Production: BP has done a remarkable job of bolstering its exploration and oil projects. In 2012, the company launched five major projects in areas like the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea, Angola and the Norwegian Sea. With this — as well as existing investments made during the past couple years — BP is expected to have about 15 major startups from the 2011-14 period. The result should be steady growth in oil production. In the meantime, BP also has been aggressive in adding new leases in places including Brazil, Canada, Namibia, Uruguay and the U.S.
Russia: Dudley masterminded BP’s success in Russia with the TKN-BP joint venture. He was able to strike a lucrative deal with various oligarchs for a total investment of $8 billion, and the return so far has come to whopping $47 billion. Through some savvy dealmaking, BP has retained a 20% of Rosneft (PINK:RNFTF), which is Russia’s largest oil company. If the success continues, this equity interest could be a nice source of more cash.
Deepwater Horizon: BP has set aside about $40 billion to handle the liabilities from the disaster. The company already has settled litigation with the Department of Justice and the SEC, and it has completed the final payments to the government-mandated trust fund. However, there could be additional liabilities as state governments like Louisiana continue to take legal measures against BP to get more cash. The current worry is the federal civil trial for “gross negligence” under the U.S. Clean Water Act, which could put BP on the line for up to $17.6 billion.
Global Risks: While a big part of BP’s business is in stable regions — such as Europe and the U.S. — the company still has far-flung operations in countries that have dicey governments. For instance, BP lost four employees when terrorists attacked an Algerian oil field they were working on. Oil companies also face substantial risks from changes in government policy. One popular ploy is to hike taxes or fees, even if they breach existing contracts. And in some cases, a government might even decide to nationalize foreign assets, which has happened in Russia and Argentina, among other countries.
Oil Prices: Oil mostly has been in a downtrend during the past few months amid strength in the U.S. dollar, continued slowness in Europe and a general lull in the geopolitical environment. As seen in the 1990s, oil prices can remain depressed for prolonged periods of time. But even if this is not the case — if deterioration last for just a few months or so — the impact can still be fairly negative on the major oil operators.
Dudley has done a great job managing BP by selling off billions worth of assets ahead of the massive settlements, while still managing to focus on shareholders via an 18% hike to the dividend (which currently yields a juicy 5%). Meanwhile, the troubles of the past few years have knocked BP shares’ valuation to a reasonable 8 times next year’s earnings.
More importantly, BP continues to invest in finding new sources of energy, which should provide nice cash flows for the long haul … so long as oil prices remain stable.
So should you buy BP? Yes — the pros outweigh the cons right now.
Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPO Playbook. He is also the author of “How to Create the Next Facebook” and “High-Profit IPO Strategies: Finding Breakout IPOs for Investors and Traders.”Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.