S&P Lifts BP Outlook To Stable; Sees Less Downside Risk

(Dow Jones Newswires), July 6, 2011

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services revised its credit outlook on BP to stable from negative, saying it sees less downside risk to the oil company's credit quality and little evidence of further erosion to its business standing.

The ratings company also affirmed BP's long-term corporate credit rating of A, which is five steps below the coveted AAA.

"The stable outlook reflects our view that BP is well positioned to meet potentially substantial additional fines and other payments related to the Gulf of Mexico disaster," the firm said. For its analysis, S&P assumes that all Gulf of Mexico-related payments will total less than $55 billion and will be spread over several years.

The ratings firm noted BP's first-quarter average realized oil price was 19.2% higher than the fourth quarter, and rose 31% from a year earlier. BP's refining margins also expanded in 2011, while its underlying downstream operating profit increased to $2.1 billion in the first quarter, from a quarterly average of $1.2 billion in 2010, despite a 6% decline in refining throughput, S&P said.

But, a sustained decline in oil prices below $70 a barrel alongside underlying operating cash flow of less than $25 billion could put downward pressure on the ratings, S&P said. Any upside rating potential is limited until there is more clarity on the penalties BP could face in the U.S. for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

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