New York BP holds enough oil in its reserves to supply the United States for two years. It has little debt for a company of its size and makes more money than Apple and Google combined.
So when the White House arm-twisted its executives into setting aside $20 billion for the Gulf oil spill, investors weren’t worried it would bankrupt BP.
“The U.S. government will become insolvent before BP does,” said Bruce Lanni, a stock analyst with Nollenberg Capital Partners. Sure, BP stock has crumpled in half. Creditors are demanding ever higher interest. But it’s not some inscrutable, high-flying Wall Street bank in trouble.
BP posted $17 billion in profit from its vast operations around the globe last year, compared with $5.7 billion for Apple and $6.5 billion for Google. More important, in the past three years the company generated $91 billion in cash flow from operations.
It’s not highly leveraged with debt, as banks were during the financial crisis. And it has 18 billion barrels of oil in proven reserves, twice what the U.S. consumes every year.
BP has spent about $1.8 billion on the spill so far, but that’s the first drop in a very large bucket. If BP faces criminal charges, it could end up having to pay tens of billions in legal costs alone.
Analyst estimates of BP’s total cost range from $17 billion to $60 billion. If the worst predictions about the leak come true, that figure could surpass $100 billion, based on a Goldman Sachs estimate that each barrel of oil spilled could wind up costing as much as $40,000 in cleanup and compensation.
Such a big bill would drive many companies under. But analysts said BP probably won’t have to go to that extreme unless it wants to wall off liabilities from the rest of its operations to attract potential suitors.
Under Wednesday’s deal with the Obama administration, BP will suspend its dividend for the rest of 2010, freeing up $8 billion. The company also plans to raise $10 billion from selling some assets. Add cash in bank accounts and short-term investments and BP could raise $25 billion.
BP is also expected to generate $30 billion this year in operating cash flow, assuming oil prices don’t fall. Investors like to focus on this because it ignores costs for which money never changes hands, like rig wear and tear.
Much of this operating cash has to be plowed back into the company, but some of that — $21 billion last year — is discretionary and could be cut. On Wednesday BP said it will trim planned outlays this year by $2 billion.