UK: City downbeat despite Shell profits

A general view of a Shell logo at a petrol station in York

A general view of a Shell logo at a petrol station in York - Credit: PA

Royal Dutch Shell disappointed the City today despite racking up profits of more than 27billion US dollars (£17.1bn) for 2012.

The latest haul, which continues to reflect the strength of global oil prices, was 6% lower than a year ago after a weaker-than-expected performance from its production arm in the final quarter of the year.

Chief executive Peter Voser said the company faced a year of headwinds in 2012 but that its strategy was one “others can’t easily repeat”.

Shell’s refining operations returned to profit in the quarter, but analysts were more concerned about a 14% fall in earnings from its upstream division to 4.38bn dollars (£2.8bn).

Shell blamed the quarterly decline on higher costs and exploration expenses.

Production increased by 3.3% to 3.41million barrels of oil or gas equivalents per day, reflecting the impact of start-ups in Qatar and Australia against declines at existing fields.

The company’s refining arm made profits of 1.2bn dollars (£761m), compared with a loss of 278m dollars (£176.3m) last year.

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Shell has sold assets in recent years as it looks to improve financial headroom for projects with greater growth potential.

Capital investment in the quarter was 12.8bn US dollars (£8.2bn), bringing the total for the year to 36.8bn US dollars (£23.3bn). It raised 1.9bn US dollars (£1.2bn) from asset sales in the quarter.

Shell has around 30 projects under construction in a bid to develop leadership positions in the areas where it chooses to invest.

It said these should unlock seven billion barrels of resources and drive continued financial and production growth.

Mr Voser said: “Shell is competitive and innovative. We are delivering a strategy that others can’t easily repeat, with unique skills in technology and integration and a worldwide set of opportunities for new investment.”

Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said today’s figures failed to inspire the market.

He added: “There are certainly positives within the statement. Refining margins improved in the last quarter, the company’s increased investment is part of a long-term strategy, and the accompanying management comments were upbeat on future prospects.

“However, the overall profit number was shy of expectations, costs are on an upward trend within the industry and the weakness of the gas price has impacted on Shell, which for the first time sold more gas than oil last year.”