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Oil giant BP reports highest profit in 8 years on soaring commodity prices

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The BP company logo is seen outside a petrol station on September 23, 2021 in London, England.
Leon Neal | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Oil and gas giant BP on Tuesday reported a massive upswing in full-year net profit, its highest in eight years, supported by soaring commodity prices.

The British energy major posted underlying replacement cost profit, used as a proxy for net profit, of $12.8 billion for 2021. That compared with a net loss of $5.7 billion the previous year. Analysts polled by Refinitiv had expected full-year net profit of $12.5 billion.

BP also posted fourth-quarter net profit of $4.1 billion, beating analyst expectations of $3.9 billion.

“It has been another good quarter for the company,” BP CEO Bernard Looney told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Tuesday.

“We call it performing while transforming,” Looney said. “I know I sound like a broken record but that is what we are doing. We are performing and delivering for our shareholders today, while at the same time leaning into the future and transforming the company.”

BP said it intends to deliver a further $1.5 billion in share buybacks and maintained its dividend at 5.46 cents per share.

Net debt was reduced to $30.6 billion by the end of 2021, down from $38.9 billion when compared to year-end 2020.

Shares of BP rose 1.5% during early morning trade in London. The firm’s stock price is up over 23% year-to-date.

A surge in global gas markets through the final months of 2021, coupled with an oil price rally to seven-year highs, has seen the world’s largest fossil fuel giants rake in bumper revenues.

It comes at a time when millions of U.K. households are facing a record-breaking increase in their energy bills amid a cost of living crisis.

Fresh calls for a windfall tax

Britain’s energy regulator Ofgem on Thursday announced a whopping 54% increase to its price cap from April. It means U.K. households could see their energy bills rise by around ?700 ($946) a year, with an estimated 22 million households forecast to see their energy costs increase.

It is against this backdrop that anti-poverty campaigners have described the profits of U.K. oil and gas producers as “obscene,” particularly since a hike in energy bills could make it impossible for an additional 1.1 million homes to adequately heat themselves.

Last week, British oil major Shell reported bumper annual earnings and announced it was “stepping up” its distributions to shareholders.

Shell CEO Ben van Beurden described 2021 as a “momentous” year. As a result, the company outlined plans to buy back $8.5 billion in shares in the first half of the year and said it expects to increase its dividend by 4% to $0.25 per share in the first quarter.

Stateside, oil giants Chevron and Exxon Mobil reported net profits of $15.6 billion and $23 billion, respectively, a huge upswing compared to the year prior when the coronavirus pandemic hit oil demand.

U.K. lawmakers from across the political spectrum have renewed calls on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to impose a windfall tax on North Sea producers to help fund a national package of support for households.

Britain’s Finance Minister Rishi Sunak has rejected this move, however, saying such a policy would ultimately deter investment.

“I understand the calls that are out there for a windfall tax right now but if we break the problem down, I think there are two solutions,” Looney said. “One is we need more gas, not less gas, and therefore we need to encourage investment into the North Sea and not discourage it. That’s number one,” he said. “And the second thing is around the transition, we need to accelerate the transition.”

Looney said BP intends to accelerate Britain’s energy transition by investing more than double it makes into projects such as offshore wind in Scotland and the Irish Sea, and hydrogen and net-zero power in Teesside in northeast England.

Oil demand

Global oil demand roared back in 2021, with gasoline and diesel use surging as consumers resumed travel and business activity recovered amid the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, the International Energy Agency has noted mobility indicators remain robust even as Covid-19 is once again causing record infections.

It marks a dramatic shift from 2020 when the oil and gas industry endured a dreadful 12 months by virtually every measure.

Energy majors are seeking to reassure investors they have gained a more stable footing two years after Covid-19 first shook markets, and as shareholders and activists pile pressure on the firm’s executives to take meaningful climate action.

The world’s largest oil and gas companies have all sought to strengthen their climate targets in recent years, but so far none have given investors confidence their business model is fully aligned to Paris Agreement targets.

To be sure, it is the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and gas that is the chief driver of the climate emergency.

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