BP must not brush off shareholder revolt over pay

 
Mark Kleinman
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INYT/Energy Intelligence Oil & Money Conference - Day 1
BP is under fire over boss Bob Dudley's proposed pay package (Source: Getty)

The Wedding Fair, a groove dance competition and a celebration of all things Star Wars-related: three of the events being held at ExCel, the London exhibition venue, in the coming months.

BP’s annual meeting, which takes place there today, won’t have the same international pulling power – a fact for which Carl-Henric Svanberg and Bob Dudley might ultimately be grateful.

The oil company’s chairman and chief executive have got themselves into a horrible – and entirely avoidable – mess over the latter’s pay.

Awarding Dudley nearly £14m for a year in which BP made its biggest-ever loss (on a replacement cost basis) is so crass it practically invites investors to wield their cudgels in opposition.

And many will do just that. If more than 20 per cent of shareholders oppose the remuneration report today, as many expect, BP’s spin merchants will argue that the vote turned out overwhelmingly in its favour.

But a revolt on that scale must not be dismissed.

Nobody is suggesting that Dudley has done a dismal job, or that the slump in the oil price can be laid at his door.

Yet the prevailing industry environment may persist for some time. BP’s behaviour implies a belief that outsized pay deals are now obligatory – regardless of shareholder returns – because running the company has become more challenging.

Today’s vote is advisory, but that should not lull BP directors into a false sense of security.

Professor Dame Ann Dowling, chair of the remuneration committee, has allowed herself to look hopelessly out-of-touch, and running low on common sense.

Beyond Petroleum may have long been consigned to the scrapheap; maybe Bloated Payouts has become a more appropriate acronym.

ROLET'S COLD SHOULDER

Sacre bleu! Even the staunchest Anglophile would find it hard to argue that Xavier Rolet has put a foot wrong in the seven years he has run the London Stock Exchange Group.

Have his recent comments dismissing the track record of Intercontinental Exchange blotted the Frenchman’s copybook?

Some of the LSE’s leading investors believe they have. To recap: Rolet, who will step down if a nil-premium merger with Deutsche Boerse is concluded, said a competing bid from ICE would expose London to a “slash-and-burn” predator.

Aim, the junior market for growth companies, would be rapidly “chucked” if the Americans got their hands on it, he warned.

True, Rolet grudgingly conceded that the LSE would fulfil its fiduciary duty to consider any genuine takeover approach. But his comments strayed too far towards a hostile defence against a bid which has yet to even materialise.

Let’s not forget that the LSE’s German merger is fraught with political risk. Its chief executive should be concentrating on steering that to a successful conclusion, not trying to deter others who are keen to stimulate a bidding war.

CRACKED SHELL

So, farewell NBNK Investments – you promised much but delivered little.

Six years after a vehicle intended to consolidate chunks of the retail banking sector raised £50m and a whole lot more hype, it is disappearing with barely a whimper.

Despite the backing of the veteran investor Wilbur Ross, NBNK was unable to secure a deal on attractive terms. My understanding is that its nearest miss was in recent months as it pursued a car loans business in Ireland. Investors won’t get back much of the £50m they put in but don’t expect that to deter others from backing similar cash shells.

Some you win, some you lose.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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