BP chief announces retirement as profits boom

(AFP) - BP chief John Browne has announced that he would step down as chief executive at the end of 2008, as the British energy company unveiled record high earnings for the second quarter.

"I will be retiring from BP, though may I say not from work, in 2008," Browne told reporters Tuesday, brushing aside suggestions of a personality clash, reports Trend.

He will have been at the helm of Europe's largest energy company for almost 13 years when he steps down aged 60.

BP said on Tuesday that the group's net profit, excluding gains in the value of its crude oil inventories, surged by 22.8 percent to 6.118 billion dollars (4.837 billion euros) in the three months to June, compared with 4.981 billion dollars in the same period of 2005.

Net profit climbed by 29.9 percent to 7.266 billion dollars over the period. In the first half, net profit rose to 12.889 billion dollars.

Following the earnings release, Browne said that "even if I were asked to stay I would decline", adding that the selection process for a successor had begun last year.

The announcement by Browne, who reaches the company's official retirement age of 60 in 2008, followed weeks of speculation over his position.

He dismissed reports of a rift between himself and chairman Peter Sutherland, saying they enjoyed "a very long-standing relationship based on mutual respect".

BP saw its share price dip 0.47 percent to 630.5 pence in late morning deals, while London's FTSE, on which it lists, won 0.25 percent to 5,848.50 points.

The group said on Tuesday that revenues surged 24.2 percent to 72.428 billion dollars over the second quarter compared with the same period last year.

Production slid to 4.018 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) during the second quarter, compared with 4.112 million a year earlier, as the group accelerated its asset disposal programme. It marked the fourth quarter in a row of declining output.

"BP's second-quarter result reflected good overall operating performance and continuing strong upstream and refining margins," Browne said in a statement accompanying the results.

Energy majors are currently enjoying surging crude oil prices, which recently struck record highs above 78 dollars per barrel on simmering geopolitical tensions in the Middle East.

During the second quarter, BP said that the average price of Brent North Sea crude oil stood at 69.59 dollars per barrel compared with 51.63 dollars during the second quarter in 2005, an increase of 34.8 percent.

The group reaffirmed its production target of 4.1-4.2 million boepd for 2006, but raised capital spending to 15.5-16 billion dollars and target divestment proceeds to 6.0 billion dollars.

In the United States, BP said it would add a further 1.0 billion dollars to the 6.0 billion dollars already earmarked over the next four years to upgrade all aspects of safety at its US refineries and to repair and replace pipelines in Alaska.

Spending for the five refineries alone will rise to 1.5 billion dollars in 2006, from 1.2 billion in 2005, then to an average of 1.7 billion dollars each year from 2007 to 2010.

The move followed fresh allegations of spills at BP's major oilfields in Alaska and the explosion at its Texas refinery last year that left 15 people dead.

Pipeline repairs in Alaska could result in at least 40,000 barrels per day in lost output, or around 11,000 barrels net to BP, for up to a month.

BP added that it would appoint an advisory board for wholly-owned unit, BP America Inc, that will focus on compliance, safety and regulatory matters.

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