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BP Pledges $10B More Asset Sales Through 2015

A pledge to sell $10 billion more in assets by the end of 2015 and increase its quarterly dividend excited BP plc shareholders Tuesday, sending the stock price up nearly 5% for the day.

Raising the dividend shows that BP has "confidence in growing long-term sustainable free cash flow," said Group CEO Bob Dudley. He and CFO Brian Gilvary spent more than an hour discussing the quarterly results during a conference call.

The announcements came as results indicated that underlying replacement cost profits dropped 26% year/year in 3Q2013 to $3.5 billion ($1.01/share) from $3.7 billion ($1.17). However, the earnings numbers still exceeded Wall Street's consensus forecast by 15%.

Under a reorganization since the Macondo oil well blowout and oil spill in 2010, BP already has sold almost $38 billion of oil and gas fields, not including the sale of Russian affiliate TNK-BP for about $27.5 billion. The sales had been expected to decimate production, but BP has struggled back, proving that efficiencies in operations trump noncore assets.

"July to September this year was another big step in moving toward both our medium- and long-term goals at BP," said Dudley. "We are reporting solid results in which the fundamental strength of our businesses is apparent, despite the offsetting effects of divestments in the upstream and weaker refining margins in the downstream. Beyond 2014, we have confidence in our ability to deliver sustainable growth in free cash flow. This will come through continued growth in operating cash from our underlying businesses and a strong focus on capital discipline..."

Worldwide production year/year fell 3.2% to 2.207 million boe/d. However, as Dudley pointed out, production adjusted for asset sales rose by 3.4%, with output higher in the United States even though BP over the past year has sold Rockies production in the Jonah and Pinedale fields and in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), as well as a gas midstream system in Texas and natural gas liquids output in Canada.

The lift in U.S. output can be traced to gains in the GOM, Dudley said. There also were no hurricane effects in the GOM as there usually are, he noted. Eight rigs now are in operation in the deepwater. The Atlantis North Expansion began operating this year, and the Mad Dog rig recently ramped up. Next year Na Kika 3 is scheduled to startup, along with the mega-platform Mars B. Three turnarounds also were completed successfully this year, maintenance that had tempered flows. As well, the Gila exploration well is progressing.

A year ago, he said, BP began to create a platform for growth that was "simpler, more focused," by investing in a pipeline of projects and opportunities that played to the UK-based operator's strengths. That's part of the reason to sell off another $10 billion of assets, the CEO said.

BP's next challenge is to backup expected new output flows with stronger operational cash flow. More sales likely would shift capital to the producer's higher margin projects, including some huge projects in the offshore. Gilvary said BP's operating cash flow in 2014 should be $30-31 billion, more than 50% growth from 2011.

"In line with continued capital discipline, we expect BP's capital spending in 2014 to remain at around the same level expected for this year, in the range of $24 billion to $25 billion. Beyond that, we expect annual gross capital expenditure to be in the range of $24 billion to $27 billion through to the end of the decade," said the CFO.

In the coming year, BP is planning to complete 16-18 exploration wells, more than in the last three years combined, at a cost of about $3 billion. However, investors continue to be concerned about liabilities related to the Macondo blowout, which analysts parlayed in their questions during the conference call.

Dudley said staff has "compartmentalized" its work related to drilling operations and those that are Macondo-related. BP has to up its drilling but it also has to deal with legal proceedings. The second phase of the second civil trial to determine how much oil was spilled ended in mid-October. BP so far has made total provisions for $42.5 billion for cleanup, legal claims and other consequences.

Since the Macondo well blowout three years ago in the GOM, BP has been attempting to pull itself out of a retrenchment, selling close to $40 billion in assets and taking more than $42 billion write-offs related to legal settlements and cleanup costs. It still faces large settlements from ongoing court action.

Dudley had promised that at least $2-3 billion in assets would be sold every year in the next few years, but he upped that game and said the annual dividend would be increased to 9.5 cents/share from 9 cents.

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