Shell net profits for 2012 sink 14% amid volatile oil, gas prices

LONDON (AFP) - Energy giant Royal Dutch Shell on Thursday said its net profits sank 14 per cent last year despite an upbeat final quarter, as the group battled headwinds including volatile oil and gas prices.

Earnings after tax dropped to US$26.59 billion (S$32.7 billion) last year, compared with US$30.92 billion in the previous year.

Net profits though rose 3 per cent to US$6.7 billion in the three months to December, from US$6.5 billion last time around. Production also grew by 3 per cent to 3.41 million barrels of oil equivalent per day in the fourth quarter on an annual basis.

Adjusted net profits - stripping out gains or losses from fluctuations in the value of inventories - jumped 13 per cent to US$7.29 billion in the fourth quarter, as higher refining margins offset increased costs in exploration and production. Total revenues, meanwhile, increased 2 per cent to US$118.05 billion in the last three months of last year.

The group lifted its fourth-quarter shareholder dividend by 2.4 per cent to 43 US cents per share.

"Shell is on track for plans we set out in early 2012, despite headwinds last year," chief executive Peter Voser said in the earnings release. "Shell is competitive and innovative. We are delivering a strategy that others can't easily repeat, with unique skills in technology and integration and a worldwide set of opportunities for new investment."

The London-listed energy major added that it would make US$33 billion in net capital investment this year, with new projects lined up for Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Iraq and the Arctic, as part of its ongoing investment plans.

"Shell will continue the strategic drive to grow its upstream businesses, with ongoing selective investment in downstream," it said.

The group also noted that the global energy demand outlook was solid, despite the challenging economic backdrop.

"Although the economic outlook remains uncertain for some of Shell's key markets... the prospects for long-term growth in global energy demand remained unchanged, driven by rising world population and improving standards of living in developing countries," the company said.

Mr Voser added: "Meeting this demand growth with clean and affordable energy is a formidable challenge for our industry, and it is a major opportunity for Shell."