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Financial Times: ExxonMobil hits $10bn mark as Shell sees boost

By Sheila McNulty in New York and Carola Hoyos in London

Published: July 28 2006 03:00 | Last updated: July 28 2006 03:00

ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest publicly listed oil company, surprised analysts with higher production than anticipated, resulting in record second quarter earnings of $10.4bn, up 32 per cent from the equivalent period.

The 6 per cent year-on-year rise in production, on an oil-equivalent basis, supports, for now at least, Exxon’s position that the strength of its long-term investment programme should offset worries about lagging production. Analysts are concerned that oil fields are increasingly mature and oil majors’ finds are slowing outside politically sensitive areas.

Excluding the impact of divestments and entitlements, Exxon’s production increased 9 per cent. Analysts credited higher production volumes in Africa and the Middle East, reflecting recent starts in Nigeria and the acquisition of the Upper Zakum field at the end of March, as well as increased volumes in Abu Dhabi.

That enabled Exxon to beat expectations with $1.72 earnings a share, up 40 per cent from $1.23 in the year-earlier quarter. The consensus estimate of analysts had been $1.64 a share.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s second largest listed energy group, yesterday reported profits had surged but prompted concern by announcing it would go ahead with a Qatari project even though costs had trebled.

The company said it had given the green light to its venture to turn natural gas into cleaner burning auto fuel. But the gas-to-liquids venture will now cost about $12bn, compared with the $4bn the company had anticipated when it first mooted the plan in October 2003.

Shell yesterday said its earnings on a current cost of supply basis – the industry standard that excludes changes in inventory values – rose 36 per cent to $6.3bn in the second quarter compared with the same period a year ago. Revenue was up 1 per cent at $83.13bn, as high oil prices helped to offset flat production volumes.

The company blamed its disappointing production volumes on the fact that half its Nigerian output had been shut down by rebels, and ongoing losses caused by hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico last summer. It has also set aside $500m to settle class-action lawsuits stemming from its reserves scandal two years ago.

Merrill Lynch analysts said Shell’s financial results were better than expected but they questioned the quality of the GTL project, which could cost as much as $18bn.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

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