BP facing sell-off calls

Oil giant BP is facing calls from some of its biggest shareholders to sell off up to half of its assets as part of a radical restructuring of the group, it was reported today.

Some of the firm's top 10 shareholders want the company to sell a further 30 billion US dollars worth of assets, on top of the 30 billion US dollars (£18.37 billion) worth that have already been earmarked for disposal following the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster a year ago, according to the Sunday Times.

The shareholders, who are not named, claim the group has a "once in a generation" chance to transform itself into a smaller, faster growing company.

The newspaper quotes one shareholder as saying "The company needs to be shrunk considerably to make it an interesting investment. We would like to see management dispose of much more than the 30 billion US dollars indicated.

"Recent asset sales show that there are lots of buyers for these assets out there and it's a fantastic opportunity to wind up half the company ... it's about shrinking to a size where gross investment makes a meaningful difference to bottom line."

BP has already sold 24 billion US dollars (£14.69 billion) worth of assets, including interests in the United States, North Sea, Argentina, Egypt, Venezuela, Vietnam and Colombia, to pay for a compensation fund and to cover clean up costs following the explosion at its Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers.

But the group's share price is still a third lower than it was before the disaster that happened nearly a year ago, closing at 455.75p on Friday.

A BP spokesman said: "We are not planning to break up the company. The target of 30 billion US dollars of divestments is enough to cover the cost of the clean up of the Gulf of Mexico and the compensation fund."

Meanwhile, another major investor is understood to have written to BP raising a number of issues, including a lack of confidence in its chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg.

But BP said its chairman had the full support of the board, adding that he had just received backing from more than 92% of shareholders at its annual general meeting last week.

The AGM was a stormy affair, with BP facing protests from indigenous communities from Canada, who criticised the group's involvement in tar sands extraction in their territories, as well as those affected by last year's Gulf of Mexico disaster.

BP also remains locked in conflict with its Russian partners in joint venture TNK-BP over its plans for a £10 billion share-swap and Arctic exploration deal with Russian government-owned oil firm Rosneft.