Investors yearn for a new era at BP

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BP’s shareholders want to see some radical management action to help the company turn the page on US oil spill litigation and the quarrel with its Russian partners.

Both issues have dragged on the value of a company that was once Britain’s biggest, but which now languishes in sixth place with a tainted reputation in the two countries that together account for half its oil output.

A move to jettison the refining, petrochemicals and fuel retailing businesses that distinguish an ‘integrated’ oil and gas company from one that just finds and produces the stuff is one potential step.

Another might be a bold takeover deal to deliver the big blocks of future output the larger players in the industry are struggling to find.

“The integrated model isn’t delivering best value to shareholders. You look at Shell and Total and ENI – no-one has demonstrated that the integrated model works particularly well,” said Stephen Thornber of Threadneedle Investments, a top 20 investor in BP.

“I would favour a much cleaner, much more upstream focused business which can utilise BP’s exploration, development and production skills and reduce its exposure to the dilutive refining and petrochemical business.”

US-based ConocoPhillips this year spun off its refining and marketing arm to become the world number one pure exploration and production company. Smaller Marathon Oil has done the same.

Refining assets – the main part of BP’s business outside the dominant E&P or ‘upstream’ side – can provide a temporary profit counterweight when crude prices are falling.