BP will write off up to $17.5bn from the value of its assets after cutting its long-term oil and gas price forecasts, betting the COVID-19 crisis will cast a lasting chill on energy demand and accelerate a shift away from fossil fuels.
Like its rivals, the British oil major is set to take a big hit to revenue from an unprecedented collapse in demand due to the pandemic. The impairments are set to raise its debt burden sharply and increase pressure to reduce its dividend.
The move comes as Chief Executive Bernard Looney prepares to outline his strategy in September to “reinvent” BP, including a reduced focus on oil and gas and a larger renewables business.
BP lowered its benchmark Brent oil price forecasts to an average of $55 a barrel until 2050, down by about 30 percent from previous assumptions of $70.
The outlook is the lowest among Europe’s top energy companies, according to Barclays research.
Review of projects
BP said the aftermath of the new coronavirus pandemic would accelerate the transition to a lower-carbon economy, in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
“We have reset our price outlook to reflect that impact and the likelihood of greater efforts to ‘build back better’ towards a Paris-consistent world,” Looney added.
BP shares were down 4.3 percent at 14:18 GMT.
Last week, BP said it would cut about 15 percent of its workforce in response to the coronavirus crisis and as part of Looney’s strategy.
BP said the new price assumptions will lead to non-cash impairment charges and write-offs in second-quarter earnings, due on August 4, in a range of $13-17.5bn after tax. It said it would also now review its plans for some oil and gas projects that are at early exploration stages.
Investors have increased pressure on oil companies to adapt their operations to the Paris goals. BP and its European rivals have in recent months outlined plans to sharply reduce their emissions by 2050, although how exactly they will get there remains unclear.
Bruce Duguid, director in the stewardship team Federated Hermes, which led talks between investors and BP over its climate strategy, welcomed the company’s accelerated shift away from fossil fuels.
“This is a very positive development, responding to the concerns raised by investors at its annual general meeting that BP review its long-term oil and gas price assumptions in the light of Covid-19,” Duguid said in a statement to Reuters.
BP said the impairments would include $8-10bn worth of write-offs in the company’s early-stage oil and gas exploration, covering projects that the company has now decided to axe. Its overall early-stage projects were worth $14.2bn at the end of March.
BP will write down another $8-11bn of the value of so-called property, plant and equipment, or producing assets, which totalled $130bn.
Debt and dividend
BP is set to increasingly shift its fossil fuel production from oil to natural gas, which is expected to play a key role in supplying a growing demand for electricity.
However, in its new outlook, the company revised down its assumption for gas from Henry Hub in the US by 31 percent to $2.90 per million British thermal units.
It also increased the assumed price it will have to pay governments for carbon dioxide emitted from its oil and gas activities to $100 a tonne of CO2 in 2030, from $40.
The large impairment relates will lower BP’s asset value by approximately 10 percent, pushing the ratio of equity to debt, known as gearing, to about 48 percent in the second quarter, RBC Capital Markets said in a note.
At such levels, the company will need to lower its dividend, the bank said.