BP Returns From Exile, Wins Gulf Bids

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- A pariah from the Gulf of Mexico, British Petroleum (BP), more commonly known as BP, has returned from exile.

After being banned from receiving U.S. government contracts and from participating in the lucrative Gulf of Mexico lease auctions, BP has finally won the confidence of regulators. The ban, which was imposed after the infamous 2010 deep-water Horizon disaster, has now been lifted.

As expected, BP participated in the government sale of Gulf of Mexico acreage held on Wednesday and ended up winning 24 of its 31 bids.

Moreover, the oil giant has found a way to bypass the U.S. crude export ban and could become the first company to sell crude outside of the U.S. in four decades (although it would technically be selling slightly refined crude).

Although BP recently reported a massive drop in quarterly profits, its long term outlook appears brighter. The company's American depositary receipts (ADR) are down about 2% this year, trading mid-day at  to $46.50. This implies a price-to-earnings ratio of just 6.4. The company offers a juicy yield of 4.7% and is attractive for long term investors.

BP has finally reached on an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency. After 16 difficult months, the struggling oil giant can once again start doing business with the federal government. After the Horizon oil spill disaster in 2010, BP was banned in 2012 from getting any U.S. government contracts and from leasing additional offshore properties in the Gulf of Mexico.

Due to the ban, BP went from one of the top fuel suppliers to the Pentagon to the biggest losers among all government contractors.

Last year, BP witnessed a loss of $654 million in federal contracts due to the absence of any major U.S. government or military contracts. This was in stark contrast to 2012, when BP was awarded contracts worth $2.51 billion.

Since the unfortunate disaster, BP has not only lost billions in potential revenue, its shares also tanked. Since April 2010, when the Horizon disaster was first reported, BP's shares dropped 21% in New York. On the other hand, two of BP's biggest competitors in the Gulf of Mexico, Chevron (CVX) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A), have risen by 43% and 17% respectively in the same period.

The lifting of the ban came at a good time. The oil giant, which was kept away from the three previous lease auctions due to the ban, participated in the latest sale held on Wednesday. The company submitted 31 bids for drilling leases in the central Gulf and ended up winning 24 bids valued at $41.6 million. Interestingly, some of the acreage it has acquired lies in the Mississippi Canyon leasing area, which is close to its Macondo well, the epicenter of the oil spill.

With the ban lifted, the company could once again start getting these valuable contracts worth billions. It has already acquired attractive acreage which, in the long term, could give a boost to BP's production. Therefore, the company's new agreement with the EPA could be a game changer.

Moreover, BP is currently working on a way to bypass the 40-year-old crude export ban. The company has partnered with Kinder Morgan Energy (KMP) whereby the former has acquired around 80% capacity of the latter's $360 million mini-refinery in Houston. The facility, which opens in July, will be able to process 100,000 barrels of oil daily. All BP has to do is slightly shuffle the hydrocarbons so that they are considered processed, and then they can be exported.

Other refiners, such as Valero (VLO) and Phillips 66 (PSX), are also constructing mini-refineries which can also be used by other larger oil firms to bypass the crude export ban. If other oil companies also start to follow in BP's footsteps then the crude export ban would become rather meaningless for the oil majors.

For BP, these positive developments come just weeks after the company reported its quarterly results that were in line with estimates. For the fourth quarter, the company's profits dropped 27% year-over-year to $2.81 billion, which matched analysts' estimates as per data compiled by Bloomberg.

The decline came on the back of asset sales, weak refining margins, higher depreciation expenses and some big exploration write-offs. The company's daily production (excluding from Russia) dropped 1.9% to 2.246 million barrels of oil equivalents, but underlying output rose 3.7%, which was encouraging.

The spill's compensations, fines, clean-ups and legal costs increased to a massive $42.7 billion in 2013, from $42.5 billion in 2012. In the fourth quarter, the company spent $119 million as expenditure related to the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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