BP’s dividend looks safer tonight

Editor’s note: This is about business and politics, so regular readers you’ve been warned if you prefer only sports.

I haven’t written much on the BP (NYSE: BP) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for a couple of reasons. First, as a shareholder in BP I have a specific position that wants BP to do whatever it takes to fix the problem and help the people of this region. I live in Alabama and want my neighbors restored to their position prior to the spill. I also believe this helps shareholder value by showing the company has the integrity to do the right thing. The company was doing this and I had no reason to comment. The second reason I haven’t written about the BP oil spill is that there hasn’t been much to say. The government has been incompetent, and it appears BP wasn’t ready to deal with a crisis of this magnitude. That has been said over and over and over and over again. However, there was an interesting story in the Telegraph that had me thinking about the dividend.

From the Telegraph: “There is particular anger at US interference in the company’s dividend policy. Earlier this week, two senators suggested BP should be banned from paying out to shareholders until the full clean-up costs are known. One fund manager said: ‘Who is Obama to dictate whether UK pension funds are paid a dividend? Others in a similar position have been able to pay dividends.’”

Also, “Tom Watson, the former Labour minister, was planning to table a Commons motion today in support of BP and urging MPs to understand the importance of the company to pensioners in this country. He said last night: ‘BP is perhaps the most strategically important company for Britain and for UK pensioners. I want to see the UK government defend the company while it is under this attack.’”

According to the report, BP paid out “£1 in every £6 paid out in dividends to British pension pots.”

With the dividend and market capitalization so important to the UK, BP’s dividend seems safer to my eye. Perhaps it is a biased and overly optimistic eye. However, BP looks too important for political rhetoric to destroy.

The largest question to my mind in trying to value BP going forward is not simply the size of the total cleanup bill, but what portion BP will ultimately be responsible to pay? What percentage of the tab will BP’s partners pay? What liability will Transocean and Halliburton face, if any? I haven’t found a good answer.

A drawback to BP is the growing anti-business environment in the U.S. It reduces my desire to hold U.S. equities. I continue to view China as a better place to invest. As a U.S. citizen, I find this troubling. Our country should do everything it can to encourage investment. Why should I be tempted to invest my dollars in China and create new jobs and opportunities there? However, the law seems more certain there than in the U.S. With bondholders screwed in the automaker bankruptcies and the rhetoric growing against BP, what is the point of doing business in the U.S.? The capitalism elsewhere looks better than the capitalism here. Something is truly wrong. The attempt to intimidate BP for political purposes is just the latest manifestation of it.

One last thought on BP. I had grown frustrated with the company’s leadership. I haven’t heard a good answer as to why the company failed to do a better job containing the spill per its disaster plan. I was beginning to worry about CEO Tony Hayward’s leadership. However, I am now a firm supporter of Hayward. When the president attacks you, it raises you in my estimation. The only advice I would give BP’s leadership at this moment is to stand firm at the growing idiocy coming out of Washington and work closer with the states.