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Shell posts 2.8 bln dlr loss on tumbling oil prices

29 January 2009

LONDON (AFP) — Anglo-Dutch energy giant Royal Dutch Shell said Thursday it made a net loss of 2.81 billion dollars (2.15 billion euros) in the final quarter of 2008 as plunging oil prices slashed the value of inventories.

The loss compared with a net profit of 8.47 billion dollars during the fourth quarter of 2007 when crude prices were far higher, Europe’s largest oil company said in a statement.

“During the fourth quarter 2008 worldwide oil and gas related commodity marker prices declined significantly,” Shell said.

“As a consequence, net working capital decreased by some 15 billion dollars during the fourth quarter 2008, mainly due to the lower valued inventory in oil products” held by the group.

Shell’s earnings were battered badly in the three months, with oil prices slumping to near five-year lows below 33 dollars a barrel as the global economic slowdown curbed demand for energy.

The sharp drop in prices came after oil struck historic highs above 147 dollars in July as the markets focused on simmering geopolitical tensions in major crude exporters Iran and Nigeria.

Shell said that fourth quarter earnings were also hit by lower production volumes in the United States and higher exploration costs.

The group’s overall oil output dipped slightly in the fourth quarter to 3.415 million barrels per day and was down two percent in 2008.

For the year, net profit dropped 16 percent to 26.28 billion dollars even as revenue jumped 29 percent to 458 billion dollars. In the fourth quarter alone, however, sales fell by almost a quarter to 81 billion dollars.

“We delivered satisfactory performance in the fourth quarter of 2008 given the pressure on demand for oil and gas due to a weaker global economy,” chief executive Jeroen van der Veer said.

“Our strategy remains to pay competitive and progressive dividends, and to make significant investments in the company for future profitability. Industry conditions remain challenging and we are continuing the focus on capital and cost discipline in Shell,” he said in the statement.

Excluding changes to the value of its oil inventories, Shell said net profit dropped 28 percent to 4.79 billion dollars in the fourth quarter but was up 14 percent to 31.37 billion dollars for 2008.

Shell’s ‘A’ share price closed 1.41 percent higher at 1,801 pence on London’s FTSE 100 index of leading shares on Thursday. The FTSE meanwhile sank 2.45 percent to finish at 4,190.11 points.

The group’s results “should be seen as accomplished and reassuring in what was a very volatile quarter,” said Peter Hutton, analyst at NCB Stockbrokers.

The company said it would pay shareholders a dividend of 40 US cents per share, up 11 percent compared with the fourth quarter of 2007.

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