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Daily Telegraph: The Questor Column

By James Quinn
Last Updated: 1:20am BST 25/04/2007BP

BP Shares: 568½p -9p
Questor says Buy

BP has been full of surprises over the past couple of years but, for once, yesterday’s first quarter results passed largely without excitement.

The numbers were expected to be downbeat, and they certainly lived up to expectations. The question is, has the company passed its nadir, with prospects set to rebound?

BP says that 2007 will be a year of consolidation, which is another way of saying that it hopes to move on from a pretty disastrous couple of years. But yesterday’s fall in profits and production were, if anything, slightly worse than analysts’ forecasts. Some investors decided enough was enough, and BP’s shares fell, bringing a halt to a 13pc rise over the past four weeks.

Failure to give any clear guidance on its trading outlook did not help sentiment, although BP is planning to start more weekly trading updates, which should improve transparency. Incoming chief executive Tony Hayward is under pressure to turn things around quickly and the weekly news flow should allow investors to gain a clearer picture. What is more, Questor suspects BP would not be starting these updates unless confident of revealing good news.

The decline in production has been a worry, but now looks set to improve. Several major projects are close to start-up and the ill-fated Texas City refinery should be fully operational soon. The share buy-back programme, despite the criticism, continues to underpin the share price and there is a suggestion that the asset disposal programme could be accelerated.

The situation in Russia is a concern, with many analysts resigned to seeing BP, like Shell before it, being targeted by regulators keen to get greater control of some of its assets. But BP has been astute in its political manoeuvres in Russia and may yet emerge relatively unscathed

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