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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Total ups output target as profits soar

Earnings rise 44 per cent as firm reaped the benefits of project start ups from Australia to the Arctic, plus a series of acquisitions

Two offshore oil platforms under construction. French oil major Total posted strong earnings growth. AFP
Two offshore oil platforms under construction. French oil major Total posted strong earnings growth. AFP

Total raised its production target for the second time this year, accelerating its emergence from an oil-market slump as rising prices deliver a surge in profit.

While the return of US sanctions on Iran derailed the company’s gas ambitions there, the move also boosted oil prices just as Total reaped the benefits of project start ups from Australia to the Arctic, plus a series of acquisitions.

Profit climbed 44 per cent last quarter as crude jumped to a three-year high.

“The upstream is well positioned to take advantage of the increase in oil prices,” Total said on Thursday. “The group, however, resolutely continues to implement programmes to improve operational efficiency and to reduce its break-even, so as to remain profitable whatever the context.”

Total pumped 2.717 million barrels of oil and gas a day in the period, setting a record for a second consecutive quarter. The French major boosted its production growth outlook for this year to more than 7 per cent, having targeted more than 6 per cent back in April.

“The consistency of delivery for Total is welcome,” Lydia Rainforth, an analyst at Barclays, wrote in a note. “All divisions are performing slightly better than expected with production-growth guidance lifted.”

The shares rose as much as 1.8 per cent in Paris, and were up 1.1 per cent at €53.40 as of 11:05 a.m. local time, taking this year’s gain to 16 per cent. Royal Dutch Shell, whose profit missed estimates, traded down 2.8 per cent in London.

After cutting billions of dollars of costs to survive crude’s collapse, Big Oil is chasing growth again. Part of the extra cash from rebounding prices is being used to reward shareholders, though companies are still keeping a lid on new-project costs amid concern that global trade tensions and rising Opec output could weaken the market again.

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Total raised its quarterly interim dividend by 3.2 per cent, in line with a promise made in February to increase the payout by about 10 per cent by 2020. It has bought back $600 million of stock so far this year as part of a plan to return as much as $5 billion to shareholders over three years. That’s on top of repurchasing any new stock issued as a so-called scrip dividend.

Profit Miss

Adjusted net income climbed to $3.55bn in the quarter from $2.47bn a year earlier. That’s just below the $3.6bn median estimate of 11 analysts. Cost savings will reach $4.2bn this year - against a 2014 baseline - slightly exceeding Total’s previous goal.

Income from the upstream division almost doubled as oil and gas production climbed, while downstream earnings dropped.

Total sees the start up of the Ichthys liquefied natural gas project in Australia, the Kaombo field in Angola and the Egina project in Nigeria driving growth this year.

Its gas, renewables and power unit, whose profit doubled in the quarter, will get a boost from the recent acquisitions of Engie’s LNG assets and of Direct Energie, while Total is also buying two gas-fired power plants in France and Belgium.