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[LONDON] Shell made more money than Exxon Mobil in the second half of 2016, despite the Anglo-Dutch oil major's annual profit hitting its lowest level in more than a decade as it grappled with a deep downturn.
Europe's largest oil and gas company showed stronger signs that it was turning a corner following deep spending cuts, divestments and thousands of job losses last year, with cashflow increasing by 69 per cent in the fourth quarter.
With BG Group's operations fully integrated following its US$54 billion acquisition a year ago, Shell said on Thursday its full year production rose by nearly a quarter from a year earlier to 3.668 million barrels of oil equivalent. "Our strategy is starting to pay off," Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden said in a statement.
Shares in Shell opened 1.6 per cent higher, while with the broader index opened 0.5 per cent lower.
The group's cost of supplies excluding identified items, its preferred way of measuring profit, was US$1.8 billion in the fourth quarter, against analyst expectations of US$2.8 billion.
Shell's full year profits were down 37 per cent year-on-year to US$7.185 billion, but its fourth quarter earnings remained ahead of Exxon, which on Tuesday reported fourth-quarter earnings of US$1.68 billion, down from US$2.78 billion.
The company's 2016 capital spending total of US$26.9 billion was lower than expected and it stuck to plans to reduce it further in 2017 to around US$25 billion. This is at the lower end of the US$25-US$30 billion range set to run until 2020. "Shell was free cashflow positive by US$1 billion in the quarter. This, combined with divestments of US$2.7 billion cashed-in has driven net debt down faster than our expectations," said RBC analyst Biraj Borkhataria.
Shell's debt to equity ratio fell to 28 per cent, down from a high of 29.2 per cent in the third quarter due to the cost of its BG acquisition.
Its net debt stood at US$73.35 billion after Shell completed sales of stakes in refineries in Malaysia and Japan, fields in the Gulf of Mexico and Canadian shale over the quarter.
Shell, which has set itself a has a US$30 billion debt reduction target, announced two major divestments worth US$4.7 billion earlier this week, including the sale of a large part of its North Sea portfolio to private-equity backed Chrysaor. Earlier this year, Shell sold a stake in a Saudi petrochemical plant for US$820 million.
Its reserve replacement ratio was 208 per cent in 2016, meaning it more than doubled its reserves following the BG buy. That compares with a ratio of minus 20 per cent in 2015.
Shell booked a US$763 million impairment charge in its integrated gas business, primarily due to the effect of a weakening Australian dollar on a deferred tax position. The impairment was partly offset by gains in the refining business, which brought the charge down to US$500 million.