BP profit soars on strong oil, gas trading

BP's profit more than tripled to $2.6 billion in the first quarter thanks to stronger oil prices and bumper revenue from natural gas trading.

The jump in profits from a year earlier comes as BP says it expects oil demand to recover in 2021, with strong growth in the U.S. and China as vaccination programmes accelerate.

In a sign of growing confidence in the economic recovery following a year of cutting costs, headcount and its dividend, BP said it will buy back $500 million of shares in the second quarter.

That would offset the dilution from an employee share distribution programme.

Net debt dropped to $33.3 billion at the end of March.

That took it below the company's $35 billion target sooner than expected, allowing it to deliver on its promise of buying back shares.

As part of Chief Executive Bernard Looney's plan to shift the focus to low carbon energy investments, BP aims to sell $25 billion of assets by 2025.

Its shares traded up as much as 3% in early trading, adding to a more than 15% gain so far this year on the back of stronger oil prices.

But it's the weakest performer among the oil majors, with shares still around a third lower than their pre-pandemic level.

That's as some investors fret over the company's energy transition strategy.