Shell posts mixed earnings amid volatile 'headwinds'

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

The figure included the accounting effect of changes in the value of oil held in storage.

Earnings after tax dropped to $26.59 billion (19.62 billion euros) in 2012, compared with $30.92 billion in the previous year, the Anglo-Dutch company revealed in its annual results statement.

Net profits though rose 3.0 percent to $6.7 billion in the three months to December, from $6.5 billion last time around. Production also grew by 3.0 percent to 3.41 million barrels of oil equivalent per day in the fourth quarter on a 12-month basis.

Adjusted net profits -- stripping out gains or losses from fluctuations in the value of inventories -- jumped 13 percent to $7.29 billion in the fourth quarter, as higher refining margins offset increased costs in exploration and production.

Total revenues meanwhile increased by 2.0 percent to $118.05 billion in the last three months of 2012.

"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 $33 billion in net capital investment this year, with new projects lined up for Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Iraq and the Arctic.

"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.

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."

Shell also lifted its shareholder dividend for the fourth quarter by 2.4 percent to 43 cents per share, and expected to pay out 45 cents per share for the first quarter of 2013. That marked an increase of 4.7 percent.

However, Shell saw its 'A' share price drop 1.84 percent to 2,263 pence on London's FTSE 100 index of leading companies, which was 0.54 percent lower at 6,288.78 points.

"Royal Dutch Shell saw annual profits dip to $27 billion in the face of weaker energy prices in 2012," noted analyst Matt Basi at trading firm CMC Markets.

Meanwhile next week, Shell's main British rival BP will unveil its annual earnings on Tuesday.

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