BP got it wrong. Do these companies get it right? Malcolm Wheatley of The Motley Fool UK takes a microscope to five top London-traded firms to see which ones would fare the best in a Macondo-style disaster.
Over the past few weeks, I've been looking at how a number of FTSE-100 companies are addressing-and communicating-the risks that they face.
In short, I've been asking:
- How many risks does the business deem significant enough to warn shareholders about?
- Which are the biggest risks facing the business?
- What is the business doing about those risks?
- And how well is the business communicating those risks-and their treatment-to shareholders?
It's been a fascinating series to research, and it's been interesting to see how businesses of a broadly comparable scale can come to some very different conclusions about how to deal with risk.
On Your Marks
Today, I'm going to score five of those companies on their treatment of risk. The companies in question: Vodafone (London: VOD), BHP Billiton (London: BLT), National Grid (London: NG), BG Group (London: BG), and AstraZeneca (London: AZN).
And the three measures that I'm going to use? In short, how well is management communicating to shareholders:
- The nature of the risks that they face?
- The potential impact of those risks?
- What they're doing about those risks?
And the example that I have in mind as I make these assessments? BP's (BP) annual report from 2009, which covered the subject of risk in just three pages, awarded some risks no more than a paragraph-and gave no hint as to the scale of the potential downside that investors faced following the Gulf of Mexico disaster in early 2010.
Here are the salient words, under the heading Process Safety: "Failure to manage these risks could result in injury or loss of life, environmental damage, or loss of production, and could result in regulatory action, legal liability and damage to our reputation."
Just last month, BP agreed to pay a fine of $4.5 billion-the largest in American history-in relation to the Gulf of Mexico disaster. The latest estimate that I've seen is that fines and compensation will cost the oil giant at least $42 billion. And the business that BP's shareholders own is now undeniably a much smaller one it was when those words were written.
So, on each metric, I'll award each company marks out of three. A top score, then, is nine points-and a business awarded just three points (or less) has serious room for improvement. For something really distinctive, I'll throw in an extra bonus point.