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Times Online: Tempus: Pump primed

July 26, 2007
Steve Hawkes

The City can be a hard audience to please and Jeroen van der Veer will doubtlessly concur today.

Shell’s profits of nearly $7.6 billion are the group’s best ever for a quarter and $1.5 billion more than BP, yet the overwhelming reaction from analysts is one of disappointment.

They point out that over the past seven years, Shell has beaten forecasts by an average of 4.6 per cent. Once $660 million of one-off gains are stripped out of today’s figures, Shell has only beaten expectations by a modest 2 per cent.

It is true to say that Shell has benefited from a sector-wide surge in refining margins — caused ironically by BP’s refining shutdowns in the US. The more capacity BP has been forced to take off the market, the more gasoline prices have climbed.

Shell has also disappointed on production and continuing turmoil in Nigeria means the group may only reach the bottom of its targeted output range of 3.3 million barrels a day this year.

The City always looks forward, but it is important to remember where Shell has come from. Just three years ago, it was mired in the reserves scandal that catapulted Mr van der Veer to power. He has since increased the exploration budget to $2 billion a year, and invested far more in new technologies. Shell is better placed than BP on liquefied natural gas and has a leading position in oil sands.

That is not to ignore the hole in its production pipeline — Shell’s output is 600,000 barrels a day less than BP’s — it needs to fill. And like other oil “super-majors”, its shares continue to suffer from a conglomerate discount. But at £20.47, or 10.8 times current-year earnings, the City has more reason to be sure of Shell than it has for some time.

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/natural_resources/article2145079.ece

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