BP HAS surprised investors with a slight increase in its dividend, bucking the trend in an otherwise bleak earnings season for Big Oil.
In the final set of results for retiring CEO Bob Dudley, the London-based company offered some respite for investors. Last week, Royal Dutch Shell slowed the pace of its share buybacks due to weak macroeconomic conditions, while Exxon Mobil and Chevron failed to impress.
"We remain confident in delivering the 2021 free cashflow targets and divestment proceeds, and expect to continue to reduce net debt and gearing," Mr Dudley said.
This underpins the company's "ongoing commitment to sustainably growing distributions to shareholders over the long term", he added.
The firm's fourth-quarter adjusted net income was $2.57bn (€2.3bn), exceeding even the highest analyst estimate. That compares with a profit of $3.48bn a year earlier.
The company's dividend for the period will rise 2.4pc to 10.5 cents a share.
"BP's results have come in slightly better than expected, but they are still a reflection of the challenging environment for oil and gas companies," said Stuart Lamont, investment manager at Brewin Dolphin.
Big Oil offers generous returns, but analysts are beginning to question the affordability of these payouts due to high levels of debt, volatile markets and investor pressure to invest in clean energy.
BP's gearing - a measure of debt to equity - remained above its target of 30pc at the end of 2019.
The group is reducing its debt burden in part by selling unwanted assets. It has announced $9.4bn of deals since the start of 2019.
BP has also completed its share repurchasing programme, buying $1.5bn of stock in the fourth quarter.
Irishman Bernard Looney takes over as the company's CEO today.
Mr Dudley is credited with saving BP from the brink of collapse following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.