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Pension funds at risk as BP and Shell’s near £10bn profits slump sparks dividend payouts fears

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Britain’s biggest oil groups will this week report a near £10billion slump in profits as the calamitous effect of the low oil price takes its toll on the blue chip giants.

Both BP and Shell are expected to see their full-year profits for 2015 slashed by about 40 per cent leading to fears that they will struggle to maintain their dividend payouts to shareholders.

BP is predicted to report profit for the year of $6.8billion (£4.8billion) down from $12.1billion previously, while Shell is set to report profit down to $10.7billion (£7.5billion) from $19billion.

Oil companies have traditionally been among the biggest and most reliable payers of dividends on the stock market, making them a favourite of pension funds and institutional investors.

Shell’s dividend accounts for more than 10 per cent of FTSE 100 payouts and it has not cut it since 1945.

However, the price of oil has nosedived from a high of $115 a barrel 18 months ago to just $27.88 a barrel earlier this month, although it rose at the end of last week to $34.45 on reports that Russia and Saudi Arabia might agree to cut production.

The oil price tumbled after Saudi Arabia refused to cut back its output in an attempt to drive US producers of shale oil out of business. Shale oil, which is pumped from oil-bearing rock, has led the US to the brink of oil self-sufficiency.

BP is still recovering from the $40billion cost of the environmentally devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill six years ago. The company last slashed its dividend after that disaster, but chief executive Bob Dudley has said he will maintain it.

However, analysts at JP Morgan Cazenove reckon the company will now be forced to cut the $7billion dividend and they are expecting an announcement later this year.

Shell’s boss Ben van Beurden saw his shareholders vote overwhelmingly in favour of his £36billion deal to acquire Britain’s other leading energy producer BG Group last week.

He has insisted Shell will maintain its near $12billion dividend even after reporting a $7.4billion loss in the three months to September last year in the wake of the failure of its Arctic drilling project. He has said the dividend from the new merged company will be $15billion for 2016.

BP plans to shed 4,000 workers including one in five in its North Sea operations. Shell has said it will axe 10,000 jobs following its merger with BG Group and it aims to sell more than $20 billion of assets by 2018.

BG Group, a gas producer, will report full-year results this week. It is expecting a profit of $1.8billion after a loss of $1.05billion in 2015.

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