Why BP is a buy

Two years on from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP's woes continue with a poor set of results. But the long-term case is looking good, says Matthew Partridge, and now looks like a good time to buy.

It's been two years now since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico made global headlines. However, BP's woes continue.

If you read the financial pages this morning, the reports on BP's latest quarterly results look grim. As the FT notes, they are "weaker than expected".

Profits are down by $0.7bn on the same time last year. Net debt is also higher. This is despite crude oil prices still being well into triple figures.

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The company is also facing claims that a top executive took bribes from suppliers in return for favourable deals, reports The Telegraph.

Meanwhile, Russia is demanding that TNK-BP, which is part owned by BP, spend more money to reduce oil spills in Siberia.

That all sounds pretty grim. However, on the upside, the legal claims from Deepwater, which at one point many feared might drive the company out of business, are close to being settled. And the share price is still 30% below where it was just before the disaster.

So, do the plus points outweigh the negatives? Let's see.

The longer-term case for BP is intact

As my colleague Phil Oakley has said, BP's strength lies in its ability to consistently increase its dividend, which it should be able to do, as long as oil prices remain at or above $100 a barrel, says Tony Shephard of Charles Stanley.

After being forced to sell assets to cover the costs of Deepwater Horizon, the company is now starting to re-focus on growth. Shephard points out that BP plans to start "six major projects in the Gulf of Mexico, Angola and the North Sea" this year. Another nine projects are also planned in 2013 and 2014.

As well as increasing revenue, these new projects are expected to be more profitable. Higher margins will increase the return on assets and help generate extra cash flow. Capturing a bigger part of the revenue from each barrel will also mean any future fall in the price of oil will hurt less.

There are other good reasons to buy into BP. The company continues to invest in shale gas, which we believe will form a crucial part of global energy demand in the future my colleague David Stevenson covered this in more detail in this morning's Money Morning.

Already natural gas prices have picked up from their recent low point. If this upward movement continues, and we think it may well, BP's joint ventures with companies such as Chesapeake will look very smart. A few days ago BP finalised a deal to lease 84,000 acres in the Utica shale patch in Ohio.

A key part of Phil's investment case in February was that BP is very cheap relative to earnings. Although this is true for the energy sector as a whole, BP remains much better value than the six other 'super-majors'. Its price/earnings ratio of 5.2 times, compares favourably with Total SA at 6.7 times, Royal Dutch Shell at 7.2 times and Chevron and Conoco-Philips at 7.8 times.

Overall, today's dip in the share price offers a decent opportunity to buy BP (LSE: BP). The low valuation and changes to the business model more than compensate for the fall in profits, which should be temporary.

However, we accept that large cap energy companies may not be to everyone's taste. If you're looking for alternative options, you might be more interested in investigating some of the tips that came out of a conversation I recently had with two top energy investors.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri