By STANLEY REED
Published: April 30, 2013
LONDON — BP reported a first-quarter profit of $4.2 billion on Tuesday after adjusting for inventory changes and one-time items, handily beating analysts’ forecasts.
BP earned 30 percent more than analysts had forecast, as new operations came onstream in Angola and Norway, oil and gas trading earned more than $500 million above average, and BP’s costs per barrel produced fell slightly compared with the same period in 2012.
Even though the profit after the one-off items was 9 percent lower than the same quarter last year, Peter Hutton, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets in London, called the report “a very positive set of results.”
The chief executive, Robert W. Dudley, said in a statement that “these strong first-quarter results demonstrate the progress BP is making.”
The main disappointment in the quarter was an 18 percent year-on-year fall in production in the United States, in part reflecting the company’s continued struggles to bring back its core deepwater production in the Gulf of Mexico after the blowout disaster there in 2010.
BP is a much smaller company than it was before the disaster, which killed 11 people and spilled millions of barrels of oil. Since the start of 2010, BP has sold about $65 billion in assets to pay spill costs and reshape the company.
Production in the first quarter, 2.3 million barrels a day, was down about 5 percent compared with the first quarter of 2012 and roughly half the output of Exxon Mobil. In 2009, BP’s production was four million barrels a day, comparable to Exxon Mobil’s.
The big difference comes from the sale of BP’s 50 percent stake in its Russian affiliate, TNK-BP, to Rosneft for $12.5 billion in cash and $14 billion in shares of Rosneft, which is majority-owned by the Russian government. BP’s stake in Rosneft, which rose to 19.75 percent in the transaction, will bring its overall output back over three million barrels a day, the company says.
Including the TNK-BP sale, BP’s overall net income for the period was $16.6 billion, compared with $4.8 billion a year earlier. According to the company, the gain on the sale was $15.5 billion, but under accounting rules it is reporting $12.5 billion of the profit while deferring $3 billion until later years.
BP has begun a share-buyback program worth $8 billion, acquiring shares worth $834 million, the company said. Mr. Dudley, trying to create a more focused and profitable company, has also trimmed BP’s holdings extensively, even in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP still faces huge uncertainties over how high the damages from the spill could go. On April 17, a federal judge in New Orleans ended the first phase of a trial to determine, among other matters, whether BP or other parties had been grossly negligent in the series of events that led up to the spill. The second phase, focusing on the amount of oil spilled, is to begin in September. What the judge eventually rules could make a difference of tens of billions of dollars in penalties.
In the meantime, the flow of lawsuits continues. BP says it has been among the companies named as defendants in more than 2,200 suits filed in federal and state courts since March 6.
A version of this article appeared in print on May 1, 2013, on page B7 of the New York edition with the headline: A Retrenched BP Tops Profit Forecasts.