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BP sees oil spill claims below $20 billion: analysts

LONDON (Reuters) - BP believes compensation claims related to its Gulf of Mexico oil spill will be less than the $20 billion the oil giant has put into an independent claims fund, analysts at Citigroup said, following a meeting with incoming Chief Executive Bob Dudley.

"He added that given current estimates of claims the $20 billion Independent Claim Fund (ICF) that BP established probably exceeds calls," Citigroup said in a research note.

Dudley added the $32 billion provision BP made for the total cost of the disaster remained a reasonable indicator of eventual cost.

Dudley also told the analysts that claims by Gulf states for lost tax revenue related to the spill "should not be too high" as any tax drops due to lower economic activity following the spill would be offset by the economic stimulus of the response effort.

Citigroup said that, following the meeting with Dudley, it had growing confidence BP would reinstate its dividend early next year.

"Dudley pointed out that the company was not ordered to cut the dividend by the U.S. government - it was a choice by the corporation to preserve liquidity ... we believe the company can re-instate a dividend with the Q4 results," Citigroup said.

Analysts at Bernstein took a more skeptical view on a return to dividends in a note on Monday.

"BP's cashflow position should be just strong enough to support a restoration of dividends by 1Q 2011, under an $80/barrel oil price scenario based on estimates. However, this assumes divestments are completed," analysts at Bernstein said.

Dudley told the investment bank that BP's divestment target remained $25 billion to $30 billion, despite reports that this had been increased by $10 billion.

BP was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Tom Bergin; Editing by Hans Peters)

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