BP Plc Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward faces rising speculation that the worsening oil spill will cost him his job as he grapples with worried investors, rating downgrades, U.S. politicians and public anger over the company’s inability to control the crisis.
Hayward will address London’s investors and analysts tomorrow, spokesman Mark Salt said by phone. Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings downgraded BP today because the costs from the accident will hurt finances. Two U.S. senators said yesterday it would be “unfathomable” for BP to pay a dividend.
Criticism of Hayward grew this week after BP’s failure to stem the flow from the damaged well caused the biggest share price drop in 18 years and raised the risk the London-based company may become a takeover target. Yesterday, he apologized for comments last week that he wanted his “life back.”
“The pressure is on Hayward at the moment, primarily from politicians,” said David Paterson, head of corporate governance at the National Association of Pension Funds in London. “Investors clearly will want some answers in order to understand what the long-term future for the company is.”
More than 40 billion pounds ($59 billion) has been wiped off the value of BP since the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Credit Suisse said yesterday the disaster may cost BP as much as $37 billion, almost double this year’s likely profit, risking a cut in dividends.
“There is a question mark over the chief executive officer,” said Colin McLean, of SVM Asset Management Ltd. in Edinburgh, which holds BP shares. “The dividend will continue but be cut. A quarter or a third is quite possible.”
BP paid a dividend of 56 cents a share last year. If it maintains it, the ratio of dividend to the current share price would be 9.3 percent, more than any of the company’s 18 global peers, according to Bloomberg data.
Irish bookmaker Paddy Power offered even odds that Hayward will leave his post by the end of year. The New York Daily News yesterday called him “the most hated -- and clueless -- man in America” for his handling of the crisis.
“It looks increasingly likely that heads will roll, and Tony will be in the frame,” Dougie Youngson, an analyst at Arbuthnot Securities Ltd. in London, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “The longer these things go on, the shakier things look for the company.”
Hayward, whose call tomorrow will be relayed on BP’s website, has come under fire from lawmakers after BP initially underestimated the size of the leak, starting with 1,000 barrels a day and then raising it to 5,000 barrels a day. U.S. Geological Survey and science adviser Marcia McNutt said May 27 the well may have been gushing 19,000 barrels a day.
BP sheared away the riser from its leaking Gulf of Mexico well today, a precursor to the company’s attempt to lower a cap onto the leak and divert oil to ships on the surface.
An attempt to plug the well with mud and debris failed last weekend. That means that the flow of oil from the well probably won’t be stopped until August, when the drilling of relief wells is scheduled for completion.
Hayward apologized yesterday for what he called “hurtful” comments saying that he wanted the spill to end in order to get “his life back.” That followed comments in which he said that the environmental impact of the spill would be “very, very modest” and that the amount of oil and dispersant is tiny compared to the size of the Gulf.
Hayward spent much of his first three years as CEO working to improve BP’s safety record after a series of accidents, including the deadly March 2005 Texas City refinery explosion that helped bring down his predecessor, John Browne.
“Safety has been a major plank of Hayward’s tenure,” the National Association of Pension Funds’ Paterson said.
Unlike Browne, Hayward didn’t attend Oxford or Cambridge, Britain’s most elite universities. The 53-year-old was born in Slough, England, 25 miles west of London and studied in Birmingham and then in Edinburgh, where he earned a PhD in geology in 1982. He joined BP the same year to work in the North Sea and worked in Asia, South America and the U.S. before becoming CEO in 2007.
Hayward lowered BP’s operating costs and bolstered production, last year overtaking the output of Exxon Mobil Corp., the world’s biggest energy company. In March, he said the company would raise production by as much as 2 percent a year through 2015.
“Hayward only just got his feet under the table and is highly regarded within the company,” said Peter Hitchens, an analyst at Panmure Gordon in London. “I don’t think Hayward will step down, but you can never rule these things out. BP is starting to be seen as a walking catastrophe.”