Is Johnson Matthey plc a better buy than BP plc?

Sustainability. As the waters around Paris gradually subside, it’s perhaps an opportune moment to ask: how can we make taking care of the environment an everyday part of business?

I remember BP (LSE: BP) looking to the future in 2000 with its ‘beyond petroleum’ ad campaign. It was inspirational, and I think it’s a pity that, after such bold words, BP has focused almost all its exploration and production and R&D spend on just extracting more hydrocarbons from the ground.

Companies must take sustainability seriously

But in a world where renewables are going to play an ever greater role in our energy provision, where solar is fast becoming as cheap as oil and gas, this oil major has concentrated on more of the same.

What’s more, it’s now accepted by scientists that global temperatures are rising, and rapidly. Companies like BP face a responsibility to work towards technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

Contrast this with Johnson Matthey (LSE: JMAT). This company has based its whole ethos around sustainability, through its Sustainability 2017 programme. This is basically a science and technology company, and its research aims to produce more fuel-efficient, environmentally-friendly vehicles, and to drive towards fuel cell and battery-powered vehicles. It also has a substantial speciality chemicals business.

It has done well over the past decade, with increased earnings leading to a share price that has rocketed since the crash of 2008. But the company’s valuation has pulled back over the past year as growth has slowed.

Results are mixed, but it shows promise

Johnson Matthey’s recently published results show that revenues have increased from £10.1bn to £10.7bn, but reported profits before tax have fallen 22% from £495.8m to £386.3m, as the bottom line was hit by impairment and restructuring costs.

This gives a mixed picture for the firm, but I’m optimistic about long-term prospects for the company. An increasing drive in the automobile sector for fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, which is Johnson Matthey’s main business, and growing car sales in emerging markets, plus the possibilities for sales of more fuel cell and electric cars, mean that this business can continue to grow.

In contrast, BP continues to be hit by low oil prices. And at some point (it’s hard to tell when), the sun will set on the oil industry. BP made a net loss of £4.319bn in 2015, and although it might turn a slight profit or at least break even in 2016, the days of multibillion pound profits seem to be over.

That’s why, even though oil prices have risen a little in the past few months, I see no dramatic return to big profits for BP, and will continue to advise that investors steer clear of this firm.

In contrast, my view is that Johnson Matthey, on a P/E ratio of 17.17 and a dividend yield of 2.34%, is a better buy.

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Prabhat Sakya has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended BP. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.