BY DAN MOLINSKI
BOGOTA -- Shares of Colombian state oil company Ecopetrol, whose earnings have disappointed investors in recent quarters as it struggles to notch new discoveries, fell under 4,000 pesos ($324.25) Monday for the first time in 18 months, leaving the stock price 27% lower for the year.
The company, which is 90%-controlled by Colombia's government with the rest traded publicly here and abroad, reported a 20% drop in first-quarter net income from a year ago, to $1.97 billion. The decline was blamed partly on a drop in oil prices and a rise in operating costs amid persistent attacks by leftist Colombian rebels on Ecopetrol's oil pipelines.
Ecopetrol shares fell briefly in early trading Monday to $323.58 but have since recovered slightly. They were recently down 1.7% from Friday's close at $324.66. This compares with a 0.15% decline Monday in the Colombian Stock Exchange's main Colcap index.
Ecopetrol has around 2 billion barrels of oil equivalent in proven reserves and a market capitalization of $97 billion, which makes the Colombian company's ratio of market value to reserves much more expensive than neighboring Petrobras or ExxonMobil.
Some analysts say Ecopetrol's shares could rebound if ongoing peace talks in Cuba between Colombia's government and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are successful. A deal for peace after 50 years of war could mean the rebels would lay down their arms and abandon large areas of jungle territory they control, which could reopen huge swaths of Colombian land to oil exploration and drilling.