BP Speeds Up Asset Sales

BP has accelerated the sale of up to $20bn worth of assets as it attempts to ease concerns about its financial health after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The company and its advisers are finalising details of the sales, including the disposal of American assets worth up to $12bn to Apache, the US oil and gas independent, according to people close to the situation. Announcements are expected in the next few weeks, possibly before the company's second-quarter results on July 27.

A senior BP figure said the company could "easily" raise $20bn (€15.5bn) from disposals, twice its original target.

Achieving this figure would remove any need for the company to raise funds by issuing new equity, he said.

BP is also expected to sell some or all of its 60 per cent stake in Pan American Energy of Argentina, valued at $9bn, and stakes in oil and gas fields in Colombia, Venezuela and Vietnam.

A deal with Royal Dutch Shell to buy BP's minority stake in the Mars field in the Gulf of Mexico has also been discussed.

The sale to Apache would be an ambitious move for the US company, which has a market capitalisation of about $30bn. The deal would include a stake in the huge Prudhoe Bay oilfield in Alaska, which was one of BP's key assets in the 1970s, but is now in decline.

Apache has a record of taking on mature fields and boosting their performance. It bought the Forties field in the North Sea from BP in 2003, and boosted production from 40,000 to 70,000 barrels a day.

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Although Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive, has held talks with international investors interested in potentially taking a strategic stake in the company, the group has committed not to sell new shares to raise funds.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Abu Dhabi's crown prince, said this week that theemirate was still considering investing in BP. However, one person close to BP said that Abu Dhabi and other sovereign wealth funds were wary of investing in large stakes without securing preferential deals.

BP's shares have already risen 36 per cent from their lowest point at the end of last month, making purchases in the market less attractive.

In a sign of where the company's future may lie, BP on Thursday also announced a $98m deal to strengthen its position in the development of advanced second-generation biofuels.

It has bought full ownership of its joint venture with Verenium, the US biotechcompany, working on producing "cellulosic" ethanol from non-food crops such as switchgrass.

Philip New, chief executive of BP Biofuels, said: "This acquisition demonstrates BP's intent to be a leader in the cellulosic biofuels industry in the US."

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