BP To Resume Paying Dividends To Shareholders

While it has posted a huge loss for the last year, oil giant BP says it will resume paying quarterly dividends to its shareholders. Dividends were put on hold after the Gulf oil spill. In Tuesday's quarterly earnings report, BP now puts the cost of that disaster at more than $40 billion. NPR's Jeff Brady has details.

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The oil company BP says it will start issuing dividends to shareholders again. The company stopped the quarterly payments after the Deepwater Horizon disaster last spring. BP made the dividend announcement this morning even as executives reported the company's first yearly loss in almost two decades. It also increased its estimate of how much the oil spill will cost. That figure now stands at just under $41 billion.

NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY: This is the time of year big oil companies announce their profits for the previous year, and in general, the companies are sitting pretty. Exxon Mobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips all reported much bigger profits for 2010. With the economy turning around, demand is up and so are prices, but BP is not sharing in that good fortune. While the company made five and a half billion dollars during the fourth quarter, for the entire year, it lost $4.9 billion.

Chief executive Bob Dudley spent much of today's earnings call making promises about the future.

Mr. BOB DUDLEY (CEO, British Petroleum): We've got to rebuild trust and faith in the company. We know that.

BRADY: Dudley says BP will emerge from the Deepwater Horizon disaster with a renewed focus on safety. While industry analysts tried to get him to say exactly how much oil the company will produce in the near future, Dudley says he's focusing instead on value over volume. That's likely because it's clear that in some parts of the world, BP is not going to be as productive as it was in the past. Dudley predicts BP will return to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico someday, but the question is whether the U.S. government will allow that.

Mr. DUDLEY: I do not believe that BP will be singled out for special treatment in the Gulf of Mexico. We are cooperating today daily with the regulators in the United States.

BRADY: BP shareholders have watched their stock lose billions of dollars since last spring.

One small stockholder is Christian Brothers Investment Services. The organization invests on behalf of Catholic institutions. It owns about $250,000 in BP stock and has pushed the company to focus more on safety.

Julie Tanner is assistant director of Socially Responsible Investing, and she's not yet convinced that BP really has made safety a priority.

Ms. JULIE TANNER (Assistant Director, Socially Responsible Investing): I think it would be far easier to see if there was more detail provided and more disclosure.

BRADY: There was a bit of good news for BP stockholders today. The company is bringing back the quarterly dividend. At seven cents a share, that's about half of what investors were getting before the spill, and the prospect of BP paying dividend has upset some in the Gulf who've complained the claims process is broken.

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu in a written statement said it's up to BP to decide when and how much it pays in dividend, but that she'll make sure those hurt by the spill are compensated.

To raise the billions needed, BP is selling off big parts of the company. Today, it was announced two refineries in the U.S. are for sale. One is the Texas City Refinery, where in 2005, an explosion killed 15 workers.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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