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Shell looks to North Sea as European investment cut


28 Oct 2011

ROYAL Dutch Shell said it would curb investment in Europe where it expects the economy to stagnate, but made clear it would still spend in the North Sea.

Announcing bumper profits driven by high oil prices, the oil and gas giant said it will shift a growing share of its investment to places like Qatar, where the launch of huge projects will underpin growth for years.

Noting that Shell only devotes 15% of its investment to Europe, chief financial officer Simon Henry said the continent’s share will shrink amid concerns about the fallout from the debt crisis.

The day after European ministers finally agreed a plan to try to stabilise the eurozone, Mr Henry indicated Shell executives have been unimpressed by the response to the problems.

He told reporters: “Europe’s macroeconomic position can only recover and the sovereign debt crisis can only be addressed through underlying economic growth. We do not see the EU creating the conditions for that – in fact quite the opposite.

“Most moves by the [European] Commission one way or another tend to almost directly or indirectly reduce the competitiveness of European industry.”

Mr Henry said Shell had identified plenty of global opportunities to put its money to good use, including developing 20 major projects in countries such as Canada and Australia that will underpin growth for years. However, Shell still sees scope to invest in the North Sea.

Mr Henry noted Shell recently confirmed it will invest in the £4.5 billion BP-led Clair Ridge project west of Shetland, among the 20 growth projects he cited.

Earlier this year Shell approved plans for the £3bn redevelopment of the Schiehallion and Loyal fields, also west of Shetland.

In May, Shell’s chief executive Peter Voser told The Herald that it could remain in the North Sea for decades.

However, the firm told the Government that tax hikes in the Budget could jeopardise investment in smaller projects.

Shell said it will continue to dispose of non-core assets, although at a slower pace than in the past two years. Shell has already raised $6.2bn (£3.9bn) against a target of $5bn.

Richard Griffith, an oil and gas analyst at Evolution Securities, said Shell’s third quarter results showed the company is in a “sweet spot”.

Stripping out the effect of changes in inventories, the company doubled third quarter profits to $7.2bn, from $3.5bn in the same period last year.

Shell benefited from a 48% rise in oil prices – partly caused by unrest in the Middle East and Africa. Production increased by 2% annually, excluding asset sales, to 3.01 million barrels oil equivalent daily.

Upstream earnings increased 58% annually, to $5.4bn. Profits in the downstream business, which includes forecourt sales increased by 25% to $1.8bn.

Asked what respite Shell would provide to hard-pressed motorists, Mr Henry said: “We do a good job in getting the lowest cost fuel to customers. The Government is probably the first people you should call.”

Mr Henry said the Government takes two-thirds of the price of a litre, adding: “It is a volume business on which we make a very small margin.”

Mr Henry said Shell could not use the profits from its upstream business to subsidise the downstream.

The company announced an unchanged third quarter dividend of $0.42 per ordinary share.

Shares in Royal Dutch Shell closed up 27p at £22.80.

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