Royal Dutch Shell profit drops as crude prices tumble

Royal Dutch Shell, which is on the brink of completing the oil industry’s largest deal in a decade, said fourth-quarter profit fell 44%, after the rout in crude prices deepened.

Royal Dutch Shell profit drops as crude prices tumble

Profit adjusted for one-time items and inventory changes shrank to $1.8bn (€1.64bn).

That is near the midpoint of the preliminary, $1.6bn-to-$1.9bn range it gave last month.

That matches the $1.8bn average estimate of analysts, and compares with profit of $3.3bn a year earlier.

Crude’s collapse has slashed earnings for oil companies, from Exxon Mobil to BP.

Oil producers are left struggling to strike a balance between investing for growth and making shareholder payouts.

The Hague-based Shell is betting that its $50bn acquisition of BG Group will help it maintain dividends and increase oil and gas production, at a time when cash-flow is shrinking.

“BG now becomes important for Shell, because it helps them grow and high-grade their assets,” Brendan Warn, a London-based analyst at BMO Capital Markets, said.

“It gives Shell the opportunity to divest their high-cost assets and focus on BG’s high-margin projects,” Mr Warn said.

Shell’s shareholders last month approved its plan to buy BG.

BG has oil fields in Brazil and natural-gas assets from Australia to Kazakhstan.

However, crude-oil prices have tumbled 40% since the deal was announced.

The average price of benchmark Brent, in the fourth quarter, was $44.69 a barrel, the lowest since 2004.

Average prices have lost more than $10 this quarter.

That makes it harder for Shell to deliver on its promises to investors.

The company’s B shares, the class of stock used in the BG deal, advanced as much as 4.3% in London.

The acquisition of BG is due to become effective on February 15.

Its completion “marks the start of a new chapter in Shell, rejuvenating the company and improving shareholder returns,” chief executive, Ben Van Beurden, said.

“Shell will take further impactful decisions to manage through the oil-price downturn, should conditions warrant that,” he said.

The company plans to sell $30bn of assets, after the acquisition is complete.

As oil prices remain low, that will be difficult, because the slump has squeezed the balance sheets of potential buyers.

It divested $5.5bn of assets in 2015.

Shell reduced operating costs by $4bn, or about 10%, over the year, and plans to cut them by $3bn in 2016.

It expects $33bn of capital spending this year, following the combination with BG, lower than a previous estimate of $35bn.

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