BP PLC has headroom of around $14 billion after tax credits to cover Clean Water Act fines as well as other claims and litigation costs stemming from its April 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the U.S. Gulf that aren't payable from its $20 billion trust fund, ratings agency Moody's said Monday.
Although BP's financial results weakened in 2012, additional divestment proceeds should allow the company to absorb cumulative costs of up to $40 billion after tax, and retain its A2 rating, the agency said in a report.
However, considerable financial uncertainty will continue to weigh on the U.K. energy giant until the size of the ultimate financial liabilities arising from the disaster are known, Moody's said.
The first phase of a civil trial on Deepwater Horizon is scheduled to begin later Monday before a federal judge in New Orleans. The first stage will determine who was responsible for the accident and whether BP and other defendants acted with gross negligence. The second phase, which is likely to start in September, will determine how much oil was spilled.
The trial won't rule on the amount of the penalties and awards to claimants. That would be determined at a separate trial at a later date, probably not before 2014, Moody's said.
To date BP has spent a total of $37.2 billion pre-tax, which is equivalent to $26.1 billion after tax, on costs arising from the 2010 disaster, Moody's said.
Moody's said it expects BP's cash flows to strengthen from 2014 onwards as it begins to reap the benefits of the large roster of upstream projects that it is working on, many of which are based in high-margin regions.
This would help strengthen the group's credit metrics relative to their weaker positioning expected in 2013.