Shell's quarterly earnings rise on refining turnaround

Thursday 31 January 2013 23.36
Shell's refining operations back in profit
Shell's refining operations back in profit

Royal Dutch Shell said today that it plans to continue investing aggressively in new projects in the coming years.

It said it sees a bright future for the oil and gas industry despite ongoing economic uncertainties around the world.

Overall, Europe's largest oil company was bullish as it reported an increase in fourth-quarter earnings.

It said global energy demand is rising due to population increases and improving standards of living in developing countries.

Chief executive Peter Voser said that at this point the company is ''more constrained by limits on capital funding than by limits on opportunities."

Voser's bullish statement came even though the company announced a below-expectations 2.6% increase in net profit to $6.67 billion fourth quarter net profit. In addition, Shell said it will hike its dividend in 2013 to $0.45 per share, a 4.7% increase from the year before.

Though some analysts have argued Shell has room to raise its dividend more, Voser claimed Shell's dividend is already "the largest in our sector."

"As our cash flow momentum builds we expect to increase our dividends for shareholders in measured, affordable steps," he said. "There is more to come from Shell."

A more detailed look at the figures showed that the company's key "upstream," or exploration and production, division posted earnings of $4.38 billion, down from $5.1 billion a year earlier.

Shell blamed the decline on higher costs and exploration expenses - Shell is spending heavily to explore for oil in Arctic waters off Alaska's coast, and has run into several difficulties.

Although the production profits were down, production volumes increased by 3.3% to 3.41 million barrels of oil or natural gas equivalents per day, as increases at major young projects in Qatar and Australia offset declines at existing fields.

The increase in fourth quarter profit was mostly due to a turnaround at Shell's smaller refining arm, which booked a profit of $1.2 billion, compared with a loss of $278m in the same time of 2011.

Voser said the company is on track to meet its goal of increasing operating cash flow by 30-50% in the four year period between 2012-2015, that would imply a total cashflow of $175-$200 billion. Shell booked $42.7 billion in cashflow in 2012.

The company's chief executive said Shell's investment spending will focus on assets such as gas, deep water projects and shale. The company is planning to spend $33 billion on capital investments this year, up from $32.5 billion in 2012.

Shell has purchased significant US shale assets, which contain natural gas that has only recently become exploitable due to new drilling techniques known as "fracking." This week Shell announced a project with pipeline company Kinder Morgan to export liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from the US in order to take advantage of gas prices that are much higher internationally.

The company is spending on around 30 projects around the globe, including in Iraq, Kazakhstan and even onshore Nigeria.