CEO safe for now, heat on chairman: BP investors

LONDON Fri Jun 18, 2010 8:39pm IST

REFILE- QUALITY REPEAT BP CEO Tony Hayward testifies about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico at the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

REFILE- QUALITY REPEAT BP CEO Tony Hayward testifies about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico at the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 17, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

LONDON (Reuters) - BP CEO Tony Hayward may cling on after Thursday's mauling by U.S. lawmakers over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, investors and analysts said, while chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg looked less secure.

BP shares gained in London after Chief Executive Hayward managed to fend off attacks by a congressional committee, and as hopes rose its $20 billion oil spill compensation and clean-up fund would cool investor anger. The oil giant has also said it will suspend dividends for the rest of the year.

"Hayward's performance wasn't great, but it could have been worse. As a shareholder, our absolute top priority is to see that all energies are being diverted to cap this wretched well," one top-10 investor told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

"Our view is that Hayward is doing as much as can be done, but the chairman has not come out of this well at all. He's hardly been visible."

Earlier this week, Svanberg was forced to apologize for speaking "clumsily" by referring to those hurt by the company's oil spill as "small people" following a White House meeting with President Barack Obama.

Another top-20 investor added: "From my perspective, it is going to be very, very difficult for the chairman to survive. The job needs someone who has some kind of credibility on the world stage, and the current guy clearly doesn't have that."

Other shareholders were keeping their powder dry until the oil well was capped.

"At the moment, we don't think that any debate on a management change would be particularly helpful. We have no interest in making the situation any worse than it already is," another top-10 investor said.

BP shares, which have nearly halved since the explosion on April 20, were up 1.35 percent at 364.45 pence at 1405 GMT on Friday.

Collins Stewart and Societe Generale raised their investment recommendations to "Buy" from "Hold," saying the share drop had been so severe that BP now offered good value.

Panmure Gordon analyst Peter Hitchens said: "There's more pressure on the chairman, who has been, sort of, at the initial stages, largely anonymous," said Hitchens.

"I think at this stage ultimately someone will have to go because it has been a huge embarrassment for BP."

"Obviously, everyone is looking for a scapegoat, but it doesn't necessarily have to be (Hayward). It could be the chairman," said Societe Generale analyst Evgeny Solovyov.

(Editing by Will Waterman)