Oil giant BP sparked anger yesterday after posting its biggest quarterly profits haul of $10billion (£6.4bn).
The company’s earnings for the July to September period is equivalent to around £70million a day — and a whopping 148% above the same period last year.
BP’s record performance came on the back of crude oil prices which hit a new peak above $147-a-barrel in mid-July.
Yesterday’s results shattered City expectations but drew fire from union leaders and politicians – prompting fresh calls for a windfall tax.
Labour MP John McDonnell accused BP of “profiteering” and added: “I will be calling in parliament for price controls and profit windfall taxes.”
Tony Woodley, joint leader of Unite, said oil companies were “banking money faster than they can count it”.
“A windfall tax on the oil giants would help 6million people heat their homes this winter and would send the clear message that profiteering from the basics of life is not just immoral but will not be tolerated by our Government,” he said.
Gordon Brown urged energy companies to pass on falls in the price of oil to consumers through reduced prices for petrol at the pump and fuel to heat homes.
Speaking at 10 Downing Street, Mr Brown did not directly address the issue of BP’s profits, but told reporters: “I notice that some companies have brought their prices down and I encourage others to do so to reflect the fact that the price of oil is now below $60 when it used to be, for a few weeks, nearly $150.”
Downing Street acknowledged BP generated much of its profits overseas and that it needed to invest in North Sea exploration and production.
Motorists and businesses have felt the pain at the petrol pump this year with petrol prices only falling below £1 a litre in recent weeks.
Oil prices have fallen by more than half their July peak to just above $60-a-barrel as global recession fears mount, despite moves by oil cartel Opec to cut production.
BP chief executive Tony Hayward said: “Although it has since fallen away sharply, the high oil price of the third quarter obviously helped our absolute result.”
The company averaged a selling price of more than $111-a-barrel, compared with just $71 in the same period last year.
Stripping out exceptional gains, BP’s underlying “clean” profits of $8.9bn (£5.7bn) delighted the City, pushing its shares almost 8% higher.
The firm – which expects to spend up to $22billion (£14.1bn) on capital investment this year – counts major investors such as pension funds among its shareholders.
BP has upped its dividend payments, which are around 60% higher than a year ago in sterling terms and Mr Hayward said the firm was delivering on its promises to shareholders.
World oil prices are likely to remain low for another 12-18 months if the global crisis continues to cut demand for oil, the group chief economist at BP said yesterday.
However, Christof Ruhl said he did not see prices falling back to where they were five or six years ago because of strong demand in emerging markets.