Shell Fourth-Quarter Profit Drops 44% as Crude Oil Prices Tumble

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Royal Dutch Shell Plc, which is on the brink of completing the oil industry’s largest deal in a decade, said fourth-quarter profit fell 44 percent after the rout in crude prices deepened.

Profit adjusted for one-time items and inventory changes shrank to $1.8 billion, near the midpoint of the preliminary $1.6 billion-to-$1.9 billion range it gave last month, Shell said in a statement Thursday. That matches the $1.8 billion average estimate of 14 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, and compares with profit of $3.3 billion a year earlier. 

Crude’s collapse has slashed earnings for oil companies from Exxon Mobil Corp. to BP Plc, leaving them struggling to strike a balance between investing for growth and making shareholder payouts. Shell is betting its $50 billion acquisition of BG Group Plc will help it maintain dividends and increase oil and gas production at a time when cash flow is shrinking. 

Shell’s shareholders last month approved the company’s plan to buy BG, which has oil fields in Brazil and natural-gas assets from Australia to Kazakhstan, despite the 40 percent tumble in crude prices since the deal was announced. The average price of benchmark Brent crude in the fourth quarter was $44.69 a barrel, the lowest since 2004. Average prices have lost more than $10 this quarter, making it harder for Shell to deliver on its promises to investors.

The company’s B shares, the class of stock used in the deal with BG, have dropped 6.8 percent this year. The eight-member FTSE 350 Oil & Gas Producers Index has declined 4.7 percent. 

The acquisition of BG is due to become effective on Feb. 15.

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