Wednesday, September 14, 2011

BP a serial offender should be broken up soonest...

Former crooked BP CEO Tony Hayward is receiving hearty handshakes for the $2.1 billion deal he has organized for fields holding a reasonably rich 356 million barrels of oil in Kurdistan. The agreed merger of Hayward's Vallares with Turkey's Genel Energy is his "continuing professional rehabilitation," Forbes says in one on-line piece, and "Tony Hayward's Revenge" in another. "Tony Hayward Makes a Comeback," says the Wall Street Journal. "Turkish Delight for Hayward" says Upstream magazine.

Are these assessments correct -- has Hayward 17 months after the devastating BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, demonstrated again that he has the right stuff? Mmmm ... no. What he has demonstrated anew is his taste for living on the edge, cutting corners and risk-the-company deals.

Those are not necessarily deadly attributes in the highly risky oil business. What makes them so hazardous is that Hayward does not appear to know his deals could jeopardize the company he happens to be running. He just stands on the ledge whistling. It is the same attitude -- one still apparent in his former company, BP (more on this below) -- that helped cause the Gulf spill of 5 million barrels of oil.

One can see what attracted Hayward to Kurdistan. He is in line to earn $24 million in shares in the merged company, and possibly more based on performance. He again is CEO of an oil company, albeit a pipsqueak compared with his old one. He is in one of the most exciting frontier oil regions of the world.

On the downside, Kurdistan is in perpetual dispute with Iraqi national leaders in Baghdad. The primary risk is that the entire deal could go south should Kurdistan and Baghdad plunge again fully into daggers drawn regarding the right of Kurdistan to sell and export oil. If that happens -- if Kurdistan or the Vallares properties alone are unable to freely export oil -- it would demolish the main rationale for Hayward's plans to list the merged company on the London stock exchange.

All of this risk-taking suits Hayward's new partner, Genel chief Mehmet Sepil. Last year, he was fined $1.5 million in Great Britain for insider trading, and thus could not have listed his company on the London exchange on his own merit, write Christopher Thompson and Anousha Sakoui at the Financial Times.

So the Hayward style (which to be fair was also his predecessor John Browne's style) continues in the land of wildcatting. But with his departure, it was supposed to be eradicated from BP itself. Yet as suggested above, there is evidence it has not.

We see this most recently in Russia, where Hayward's successor, CEO Bob Dudley, happily signed a blockbuster Arctic deal with Rosneft a few months ago that flouted contractual fidelity to an existing Russian partner. Courts effectively vacated the deal, and ExxonMobil, unhindered by any pre-existing marriage, picked it up last week in BP's place.

This has been so much blood in the water as far as BP's Russian partners are concerned, and they had masked Russian forces raid BP's Moscow office in supposed search of incriminating documents.

BP shareholders are clearly worried. In a piece this week, the Wall Street Journal's Guy Chazan reported that BP shareholders are demanding that management show that it knows how to right the company. He quotes Paul Mumford, senior fund manager at London-based Cavendish Asset Management, which owns BP shares: "BP is increasingly viewed as a company that's lost its way."

A few months ago, this blog argued that BP is such a serial offender, that it was time for shareholders to take matters into their own hands, and either totally shake up or say goodbye to the company. One option that's been discussed since the summer is breaking up BP into three or more parts. That is sounding more and more sensible....

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