Should You Buy BP?

LONDON -- The bad press surrounding BP and its role in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill continues to hamper interest in the natural resources goliath. The trial to decide the final settlement commenced in late February and is expected to extend for a protracted period.

In the meantime, I believe that accelerating production across BP's streamlined portfolio of assets should underpin future growth. Indeed, the boffins at Bank of America lifted their share-price target to 540 pence following February's encouraging full-year results, a 22% premium from current levels.

Groupwide operations ready to march higher
Last month's results for 2012 showed profits more than halve to $11.6 billion as BP heavily divested assets to cover the cost of the Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe.

BP estimates that it will have to fork over around $42 billion for its role in the accident. Since 2010, the company has divested assets -- excluding the sale of its stake in TNK-BP -- to the tune of $38 billion to cover these expenses.

BP's upstream production was flat during 2012, as the effect of the asset sales, coupled with falling reserves, curtailed output.

However, production is expected to move convincingly higher from this year onwards as output jumps at the firm's new projects and maintenance closures slow at its other ventures. BP brought five major oil projects online in 2012, and plans to start production at another four this year and a further six in 2014.

Also, BP reported that momentum within its downstream businesses continues to tick higher -- these subsidiaries punched record earnings last year as well as a fourth successive year of underlying profit growth.

Earnings expected to climb higher
Analysts expect earnings per share to advance 7% to 61 pence in 2013 before accelerating 10% higher the following year to 67 pence. Yet these excellent earnings projections are not factored into the current share price, in my opinion.

Forecast P/E ratings of 7.3 and 6.6 for 2013 and 2014 offer great value for money, a point which is rammed home by a budget price/earnings to growth (PEG) readout. The City's number crunchers expect this to come in at 1 this year and 0.7 in 2014 -- any figure around or below 1 is considered outstanding value.

In addition, BP offers investors juicy payout potential way in excess of the 3.5% FTSE 100 average dividend yield -- yields of 5.5% and 6% are anticipated in 2013 and 2014, respectively. These payouts are also well protected, with coverage of 2.5 for both of the next two years.

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BP comes attached with great growth potential and chunky dividends, but there are also other great natural resources opportunities out there waiting to be realized. However, drilling for oil and minerals mining is often a "hit and miss" business where the timing, and indeed quantities, of potential payloads are extremely unpredictable.

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Fool contributor Royston Wild has no position in any stocks mentioned, and neither does The Motley Fool. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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