BP crisis: The impact on your savings and investments

Image caption BP's oil spill: what has it cost you?

The major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has taken a huge toll on BP's share value - almost halving it since the spill began in mid-April.

In addition, the company has said it will not be paying any dividends to its shareholders this year, after agreeing to finance a $20bn (£13.5bn) clean-up and compensation fund for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Given that BP is of great importance to the FTSE index of 100 leading companies and the country's pension funds - what impact will its decline in value and the scrapping of dividends have in practice?

What has happened to my BP shares?

BP shareholders have seen a direct impact, with the value of the company's shares almost halving since the spill on 20 April.

There have been two main factors behind the fall in BP's share price.

Firstly, concerns over the eventual cost of the spill, which is far from clear. The amount is rising by the day and no-one knows how big or how long the clean-up operation itself will be. Even harder to quantify is the eventual bill for compensation to businesses and workers affected by the spill and fines that the US government has said BP will have to pay. Although BP is setting up a $20bn compensation fund, the eventual cost could be much higher than that.

Secondly, the company has said it is scrapping its dividends (the quarterly payments it makes to shareholders) in 2010 after coming under pressure from the White House. The move was not entirely unexpected, and the prospect of this happening has also driven BP's share price down in recent weeks.

You can add a third, too, and that is the usual nervousness investors display when any company suffers adverse publicity or uncertainty surrounds its future.

What does scrapping the dividend mean?

Quite simply, it means investors will not get any regular payments this year from owning BP shares.

That includes the first quarter dividend (about 9.5 pence per share) which had been due to be paid on 21 June and would have cost the company about $2.6bn.

This will clearly disappoint BP shareholders, some of whom may have chosen BP because, in the past, it has been a regular dividend payer.

The last time that BP suspended a dividend payment was during World War II.

There wil be no second or third quarter dividends this year. Payments to shareholders may possibly resume for the fourth quarter of 2010, which will become payable in early 2011.

I'm saving into a pension. Will this affect me?

Many BP shareholders will be pension funds. So the fall in the value of its shares and the axing of the dividend will have an impact. The question is how big.

Pension funds nowadays only have about 25% of their money invested in UK shares (most of which is in the FTSE 100 index). The rest is in the likes of overseas shares and bonds.

The National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF), which represents a large part of the UK pension industry, estimates that 1.5% of members' money is invested in BP.

You could use the same sort of rough arithmetic on dividend income, too. £1 in every £7 of dividend income from FTSE 100 companies comes from BP. But, as described above, pension funds have many more sources of income than just the FTSE 100.

BP's own research says it accounts for 8% of UK pension fund income.

I have already retired. Could my pension be affected, too?

If you are already receiving your pension after saving hard for years, recent falls in BP shares or the suspension in the dividend will not affect the income you receive.

That's the same whether you are in your former employer's final-salary scheme, which guarantees to pay a percentage of your last salary, or if you have already bought an annuity with a private pension pot. It won't, of course, affect the state pension either.

And if you are nearing retirement, don't forget that most personal pension funds switch out of shares as retirement draws near.

What about other investments?

BP is likely to feature in a wide range of popular investments, from FTSE 100 index tracker funds, which are far and away the most popular type of share investment, to unit trusts and Child Trust Funds. You may well have exposure without knowing it.

So is it time to sell my BP shares or get out of related investments?

A decision for you, I'm afraid, and not something we can advise on. Bear in mind some investments may incur penalties if you want to get your money out early.

Did BP scrap the dividend because it could not afford it anymore?

BP decided not to pay dividends in 2010 for several reasons.

The key one is that it has agreed to pay $5bn into the compensation fund annually over four years.

BP has a strong balance sheet with relatively low levels of borrowing, therefore paying $20bn into an escrow fund over several years is affordable.

Had it been forced to put all the money into a fund immediately, this would have weakened the company very considerably, BBC business editor Robert Peston said.

It should be remembered too, that the $20bn is not the most it can be liable for. It is possible that the compensation it must pay out - a process likely to last for years - will exceed that level.

Some observers say it there is also an issue of trying to limit damage to its image - arguing it should not be seen to rewarding investors while many in the US are losing their livelihoods as a result of the spill.

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