BP signalled a further step in its recovery today by hiking its payout for shareholders for the first time since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Chief executive Bob Dudley said the oil giant, which accounts for one pound in every six invested by pension schemes, remained on the “right path” as he unveiled a 14% increase in the company's dividend to 5.1p a share.
Meanwhile, the group said that, as of December 31, it had paid out 7.5 billion US dollars (£4.7 billion) for individual, business and government claims since the incident, which claimed 11 lives, as it prepares to go on trial at the end of this month.
Mr Dudley said: “As I have said before, we are prepared to settle if we can do so on fair and reasonable terms, but equally, if this is not possible, we are preparing vigorously for trial.”
Elsewhere, BP reported annual replacement cost profits of 23.9 billion US dollars (£15.1 billion) in 2011, compared with a loss of 4.6 billion US dollars (£3.1 billion) the previous year.
BP has committed to selling 38 billion US dollars (£24 billion) worth of assets before the end of 2013 following the oil spill disaster, and has so far sold 19.7 billion US dollars (£12.5 billion).
The raft of disposals, which cover assets from North America, Egypt, Venezuela, Vietnam and Colombia, has hit production, with full-year levels falling 10% to an average of 3.45 million barrels of oil a day. The group was producing more than 4 million barrels a day before the disaster.
However, as crude oil remained at close to 100 US dollars a barrel in the final three months, the company saw its quarterly replacement cost profit jump to 7.6 billion US dollars (£4.8 billion) from 5.2 billion US dollars (£3.3 billion) in the previous quarter.
Mr Dudley laid out a number of objectives for the year, including drilling 12 exploration wells, double the 2011 total, starting up six major upstream projects and completing payments into the Gulf of Mexico trust fund.
Shares opened 1% higher today following the dividend hike and slightly better than expected fourth-quarter performance.
Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said: "Helped along by the strength of the oil price, the company has been able to report a significant upswing in earnings, albeit largely in line with estimates.
"Meanwhile, this extra cash generation has allowed a generous increase in the dividend payment, which marks a sign of future management confidence.
"The dividend is still far from the historical heady heights, however, whilst the ongoing fall-out from the Gulf of Mexico spill is a distraction."