British oil giant BP’s net profit for the first quarter rebounded as oil prices partly recovered from a COVID-19 pandemic-driven slump.
Earnings after taxation hit $4.7 billion in the three months to the end of March, BP said in a results statement Tuesday.
That contrasted sharply with a net loss of $4.4 billion in the same period last year when the coronavirus had savaged oil demand and prices. It reported a huge $20.3 billion net loss for 2020.
The company, whose performance was also boosted by a series of asset sales, added that it would begin share buybacks in the next quarter.
"With the acceleration of divestment proceeds, together with strong business performance and the recovery in the price environment, we generated strong cash flow and delivered on our net debt target around a year early," said chief executive Bernard Looney.
"We are commencing share buybacks in the second quarter which, alongside our resilient dividend, support the growth in distributions to shareholders."
BP's replacement cost profit – a widely watched measure stripping out exceptional items and changes in the value of oil inventories – soared to $2.6 billion in the first quarter, up from $100 million in the fourth quarter of last year.
"This result was driven by an exceptional gas marketing and trading performance, significantly higher oil prices and higher refining margins," BP added in the earnings release.
One year ago, crude oil prices had plunged into the abyss, ravaged by the global coronavirus pandemic and disagreement within crude-producing cartel OPEC.
In the first half of last year, crude futures had tanked as low as minus $40.32 on April 20, 2020, as investors were caught between a lack of buyers and an inability to take delivery of barrels due to lack of available storage space.
However, 12 months on, prices have recovered and are rising, boosted by the global vaccination rollout and brightening optimism over demand.
Oil has returned to its pre-pandemic price, hovering around $65 a barrel, with industry predictions it will rise above $80 in the coming months.
"The oil market is set to continue its rebalancing process," BP added in its results statement on Tuesday.
"Oil demand is expected to recover in 2021 due to strong growth in the U.S. and China and as the distribution of vaccinations gains momentum and lockdown restrictions are gradually lifted."
"OPEC+ behavior is a key factor in oil prices and market rebalancing," it added.
The results were published on the eve of an output gathering of OPEC and its allies.
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