BP raises dividend as profits jump

BP on Tuesday posted earnings far stronger than expected and hiked its dividend as the British energy giant prepared for a new Russia adventure after being rocked by the devastating Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

BP on Tuesday said net profit jumped 7.7 percent to $5.43 billion (4.19 billion euros) in the third quarter compared to the equivalent period last year despite a drop in production.

The company added that it was hiking its quarterly dividend by 12.5 percent to nine cents a share.

"BP's performance and the strong progress we are making in transforming the company give us the confidence to increase distributions to our shareholders," chief executive Bob Dudley said in an earnings statement.

The company, which last week unveiled a massive strategic deal with Russian state oil firm Rosneft, said net profits increased in the third quarter, or three months to the end of September, from $5.04 billion a year earlier.

BP added that its clean replacement cost profit -- which strips out changes in the value of energy inventories as well as one-off gains or losses -- dropped 5.3 percent to $5.17 billion in the third quarter.

However the profit figure was far higher than consensus expectations of $4.09 billion in a Dow Jones Newswires poll of analysts.

BP's share price was up 4.34 percent at 443 pence, topping the FTSE 100 benchmark index, which rose 0.77 percent overall in late London deals.

"Today's results were very strong," said Jonathan Jackson, head of equities at stockbroker Killik & Co. "Although the potential liability for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill remains an uncertainty, we are positive on the shares."

BP said that its third quarter results benefited from a strong performance in the group's downstream, or refinery business.

The British firm, seeking to reposition itself after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster in 2010, agreed last week to sell its half of Russian venture TNK-BP to Rosneft for $17.1 billion plus a 12.84-percent share of the state company.

BP added it would spend $4.8 billion of the proceeds to buy another 5.66 percent of Rosneft, bringing its total stake in the Russian company to 19.75 percent. Analysts said the deal could lead to major exploration projects by BP in the Arctic.

BP on Tuesday said that its oil and gas output during the third quarter, excluding TNK-BP, stood at 2.26 million barrels a day, down 2.7 percent compared with the third quarter of 2011.

"Looking ahead we expect fourth-quarter reported production to be higher than the third quarter as we exit the maintenance season, and see the continuing benefit of our major project start-ups," the company statement said.

"The extent of the increased production will likely be muted by the timing of Gulf of Mexico and North Sea divestments expected to be completed during the fourth quarter."

For the past two years, BP has set about selling what it sees as non-core assets to help fund massive compensation costs resulting from the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

In the third quarter, it sold its Carson refinery in California to US peer Tesoro Corporation for $2.5 billion. Earlier this month, BP offloaded its ill-fated Texas City refinery and a portion of its US retail and logistics network to US-based Marathon Petroleum Corporation, also for $2.5 billion.

The Texas City facility suffered a deadly explosion in 2005 that killed 15 workers and sparked safety concerns across BP's US operations.

The British group's reputation took a far bigger hammering two and a half years ago after an explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and sent millions of barrels of oil spewing into the sea.

The blast on April 20, 2010 sparked what has widely acknowledged to be the worst environmental catastrophe in US history.

BP on Tuesday said it had so far sold assets totalling more than $35 billion to help cover the costs of the tragedy, a figure set to reach $38 billion by the end of 2013.

The BP logo pictured at a petrol station in central London, in February 2011. British energy giant BP on Tuesday said its net profit jumped 7.7 percent to $5.43 billion in the third quarter compared to the equivalent period last year as income from divestments offset lower output.

Bob Dudley, chief executive of British energy giant BP, during a press conference in London in July 2011. "BP's performance and the strong progress we are making in transforming the company give us the confidence to increase distributions to our shareholders," Dudley said Tuesday.