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Shell pledges to keep dividend despite slump in oil prices

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If the oil price stays low, Shell’s van Beurden may have to eat his words Photo: AFP

By Andrew Critchlow, Commodities editor: 06 Oct 2015

Royal Dutch Shell has reassured investors that it will maintain its dividends regardless of a prolonged slump in oil prices below $50 per barrel.

Chief executive Ben van Beurden, speaking at the Oil and Money conference in London, said: “Shell is pulling out all the stops to safeguard our dividends and buy-back programme, and to keep our investment programme steady for the future.”

Crude trading below $50 per barrel has caused havoc in the oil industry as companies cut back on spending and shed thousands of jobs. Opec estimates that investment in oil projects globally will fall by $130bn (£85bn) this year, down 20pc from 2014.

Shell said the company expects capital investment in 2015 to be around $30bn, or 20pc lower than last year and 35pc lower than in 2013.

Although Mr van Beurden said there were signs of the oil market improving, he stressed that Shell was preparing for prices to remain “lower for longer”. “With US shale oil being more resilient than we originally thought and a lot of oil still in stock, it will take some more time to rebalance demand and supply,” said Mr van Beurden.

Shell was recently forced to abandon its controversial drilling programme in the Arctic. The Anglo-Dutch oil giant has said that it expects charges for the decision, with the company carrying a $3bn exposure on its balance sheet for the Arctic assets and a further $1.1bn in contractual commitments.

It came as the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) said it had convened a meeting of experts in Vienna later this month to seek solutions to weak oil prices. Abdalla Salem el-Badri, secretary general of Opec, stressed it was not intended as a formal policy meeting of the group, which pumps a third of the world’s crude.

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A number of producers in Opec, including Algeria and Venezuela, have been calling for an emergency meeting of ministers to discuss output cuts.

The meeting may go some way to ameliorating calls for a formal gathering of ministers, which is opposed by Saudi Arabia and its clutch of Gulf Arab allies.

Mr El Badri also said that falling oil prices are having a dramatic impact on investment in the industry, which is forecast now to drop by 20pc to $520bn this year.

Opec’s ministers are next due to meet to discuss production levels in December. Although, the oil market is chronically oversupplied, producers such as Saudi Arabia have ramped up output to record levels to recover market share from US shale.

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