By Michael Casey
October 28, 2014

BP can’t seem to catch a break.

As it struggles with the cost of the 2010 BP oil spill cleanup, it now must confront falling oil prices and declining profits from its stake in Rosneft.

Those challenges were apparent on Tuesday when BP (BP) announced its earnings, which fell about 18 percent to $3 billion in the third quarter, compared to $3.7 billion in the same period of 2013. Net income for the period dropped about 63 percent to $1.3 billion.

Still, the company put a positive spin on the quarter, emphasizing that it would increase its dividend by 5.3 percent from a year earlier, to 10 cents a share. That is expected to be paid out in December.

“BP’s operational momentum continues to deliver results,” BP Group Chief Executive Bob Dudley said in a statement. “Growing underlying production of oil and gas and a good downstream performance generated strong cash flow in the third quarter, despite lower oil prices. This keeps us well on track to hit our targets for 2014.”

And while acknowledging “oil market volatility,” BP insisted that was in good shape to withstand a prolonged downturn as long as prices remain above $80 a barrel. Prices of Brent – the global benchmark – were down slightly Tuesday to $85.75.

“Given where we are with the portfolio and having brought on stream the projects we laid out in 2011 as part of the 10-point plan for 2014, our balance sheet has got progressively stronger,” Brian Gilvary, BP Chief Financial Office, told investors in an earnings call. “What that means is that we are actually in a very good position to certainly withstand a sustained period of low oil prices in the range of $80 and $85.”

Gilvary also said BP, like several other oil and gas companies, saw opportunities with the lower prices.

“As we have said in many investor calls, I think a period of $80 and $85 a barrel probably offers more opportunities for us than threats,” Gilvary said. “On that basis, we will look at how we deploy the cash we have available to us in terms of investments, in terms of buy backs, in terms of progressive dividends. Of course, acquisition will be certainly be an option but not of a corporate nature. … But in terms of being able to deepen strategically in some existing position we have, there may be some opportunity for us.”

Those comments were similar to ones made by Occidental Petroleum’s (OXY) President and CEO Steve Chazen last week during the company’s earnings call. Much as BP reported, Occidental saw its earnings fall due to lower oil prices, but Chazen said it was more than comfortable with the lower prices – adding that it would still make double-digit returns even if prices dipped to $75.

“I sort of know what to do with $75 oil or less, but I have no idea what to do with the $120,” Chazen said. “ So, I think, this is really good times for us. As a fundamental business matter, the cyclical downturns is where you use the balance sheet to build the business … A little lower oil prices, I think, could take some of the volumes out of it and gives us some opportunities to head to our business.”

Oil prices have tumbled in the past few months due to concerns about oversupply in the markets. Brent – the global benchmark – sank to its lowest level since November 2010 earlier this month, $83.47 a barrel. Some of the decline is due to supply glut driven by American production, but also increases from Libya and Iraq.

Some analysts have expressed concerns that the lower prices may eventually take some of the steam out of the shale boom and other unconventional plays. But so far, that has not been the case.

One area that could be hit would be the tar sands in Canada but Standard & Poor’s, in a report Tuesday, said there would be no impact over the long term. Along with lower oil prices, it said other risk in tar sands involved “Alberta’s increasingly lengthy regulatory review and approval process, and the apparent fall-off in new foreign investment in the oil sands sector.”

“Collectively, these factors might temper near-term development activity; however, Standard & Poor’s believes Canada’s oil sands production will continue to expand in the next several years and remain the single largest contributor to the country’s crude oil production growth,” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Michelle Dathorne in the report, entitled “Lower Oil Prices And Other Market Challenges Shouldn’t Dampen Long-Term Expansion Plans in Canada’s Oil Sands.”


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