Oil giants BP and Shell were the toast of shareholders yesterday but faced anger from motorists after pumping profits of more than £3million an hour.
The impact of rising oil prices meant their combined earnings hit £7.2billion in the first three months of the year, a haul far greater than City forecasts and resulting in share price gains of around 6% for both firms.
The profits were achieved at the same time as motorists visiting UK forecourts faced up to average unleaded prices of approaching £5 a gallon.
The AA said drivers would be shocked by the latest profits haul.
AA president Edmund King said: “The motorist feels somewhat battered from all sides, seeing the oil companies going off with cash in their pockets and the Treasury filling its coffers.”
He called on the oil companies to reinvest more in drilling and refining, to increase the supply of oil and create downward pressure on prices.
The profits were announced as dozens of hauliers took their protest against record-high diesel prices to the streets of London.
Both companies argue that while record oil prices inflated returns at their exploration and production divisions, tougher conditions were felt in downstream operations such as refining and marketing.
The pair also insist they already pay high levels of tax, while also investing a similar sum to their annual profits in finding new sources.
Shell’s first quarter profits were 12% higher at £3.92billion while BP improved 48% to £3.32billion.
In January, Royal Dutch Shell re-ignited calls for a windfall tax after it announced annual profits of £14billion. Independent charity the RAC Foundation said yesterday that anger over rising petrol costs needed to be directed towards the Government however, adding a flexible fuel duty would compen- sate for varying crude prices.
BP said it was paid an average of $90.92 a barrel for its oil in the first quarter, compared with $53.43 a year earlier.
Analysts said BP’s profits were higher than expected, but added it was too early to call a turnaround after performance difficulties in recent years.
The company revealed a 22% fall in 2007 profits earlier this year.