Fresh call for windfall tax amid cost of living crisis as BP banks biggest profit in eight years: reaction
Oil major BP has banked its biggest annual profit haul in eight years amid mounting pressure on the sector as the cost-of-living crisis deepens.
The group, which remains a key North Sea player, revealed it swung to a bumper $12.8 billion (£9.5bn) underlying replacement cost profit - its preferred measure - for 2021 from losses of $5.7bn the previous year.
It notched up $4.07bn of profits in the final three months alone, which was better than expected.
BP, which is a key component within many pension funds, also announced more cash returns for shareholders, with a further $1.5bn of share buybacks before its first-quarter 2022 results and a dividend payout of 5.46 cents a share for the fourth quarter.
The results echo those last week from rival Shell, which increased its profits nearly fourteen-fold amid soaring oil and gas prices.
Calls are growing for a windfall tax on energy giants, with Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs arguing that while households are paying through the nose for gas - energy bills are set to rise more than 50 per cent in April - the companies which extract that gas are reporting massive profits.
Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK, said: “It’s important not to understate how bad 2020 was for the oil and gas industry, as demand collapsed, and oil companies cut production as storage and refinery capacity ran out.
“There is certainly a case for criticising the amount of money these businesses set aside for investors and shareholders relative to investment in renewables, however rather than calling for a populist windfall tax, which would also deter investment, perhaps it would be better for governments to make investment in renewable energy more attractive by way of tax breaks in the areas of blue and green hydrogen.”
Alongside its results, BP announced plans to boost its spending on low-carbon and renewable energy.
Chief executive Bernard Looney told investors: “2021 shows BP doing what we said we would - performing while transforming.
“We've strengthened the balance sheet and grown returns, we're delivering distributions to shareholders with $4.15bn of buybacks announced and the dividend increased, and we're investing for the future.”
Stuart Lamont, investment manager at Brewin Dolphin, the wealth firm, said: “BP was expected to deliver a strong set of results following last week’s update from Shell, and the company has duly delivered.
“Buoyed by the rising oil price, BP has swung to a substantial profit, cut debt, invested in its business, and upped its shareholder distributions.
“Management is striking a positive tone on its progress as BP transitions towards net zero and the company looks to be in a strong position to deliver on its commitments building up to 2030.”
Shell was in the firing line last week as it reported a hefty spike in profits on the same day as Ofgem announced a near £700 rise in the energy price cap.
Ed Miliband, shadow secretary of state for climate and net zero, said: “BP's results yet again demonstrate the case for a windfall tax. The boss of BP described the energy price crisis as a cash machine for his company, and the people supplying the cash are the British people through rocketing energy bills.”
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