ConocoPhillips reports loss as oil crash crimps shale gains



HOUSTON (Bloomberg) -- ConocoPhillips, the third-largest U.S. energy producer, reported a fourth-quarter loss as new output failed to make up for the worst oil-price crash since 2009.

Net income swung to a loss of $39 million, or 3 cents a share, from profits of $2.49 billion, or $1.20, a year earlier, Houston-based ConocoPhillips said Thursday in a statement. Excluding one-time items, per-share profit of $60 was 2 cents more than the 58-cent average of 21 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

ConocoPhillips is the second of the world’s largest oil companies to report earnings for the fourth quarter, a period in which crude prices fell 42%. Chairman and CEO Ryan Lance was among the first in the industry to announce spending cuts. The company will reduce expenditures by more than 30% to $11.5 billion this year on drilling projects from Colorado to Indonesia.

“A lot of those cuts could be coming back to shale, an area that has really allowed them to improve their profitability in recent years,” James Sullivan, an analyst with Alembic Global Advisors in New York, said in an interview before the results were released. “We hope those high margin growth areas will remain a solid engine for them.”

Earlier Thursday, Royal Dutch Shell Plc said it will cut $15 billion of investment over the next three years as the crash in oil prices saw fourth-quarter profit miss forecasts.

A one-time energy conglomerate, ConocoPhillips has expanded in North America after spinning off its refining business and selling $10 billion in assets. The company can turn a profit drilling in formations such as Texas’s Eagle Ford with an oil price of $40/bbl, according to an investor presentation last month.

Brent crude, the benchmark used by most of the world, has averaged $49.57/bbl this month.

ConocoPhillips, which has 19 buy, eight hold and one sell recommendation from analysts, closed at $62.58 in New York trading Wednesday.

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