(Adds CEO comments, background) KUALA LUMPUR, March 2 (Reuters) - Malaysian state energy firm Petroliam Nasional Berhad , or Petronas, posted a 61 percent jump in quarterly profit on Friday and pledged to boost its dividend payout and capital spending this year. Petronas, like other oil majors, had taken a hit from lower oil prices, but sharp cost cuts - along with some recent stability in oil prices - helped the company post higher profits and margins. Net profit for the fourth quarter ended December rose to 18.2 billion ringgit ($4.65 billion) from 11.3 billion ringgit in the same quarter last year, while revenue rose 13.8 percent to 61.8 billion ringgit.
The quarterly result helped push full-year profit up 91 percent to 45.5 billion ringgit - marking a second year of profit growth for the sole manager of Malaysia's oil and gas reserves following a two-year profit slump. "Petronas is now in stronger position to execute its long term growth agenda," Chief Executive Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin said. "Petronas will explore new business areas, including speciality chemicals and new energy." Petronas will focus on the ASEAN region, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and the Americas for growth, he said, adding that the company will assess opportunities in solar energy. Wan Zulkiflee said the company will continue its focus on costs. Petronas, a major contributor to Malaysia's budget and one of the country's biggest employers, said in 2016 that it would reduce expenses by $12 billion over a four-year period and cut thousands of jobs. The company, known to be conservative with its outlook, said its performance in 2018 will be "satisfactory" subject to sustainability of the oil price. It is budgeting for an oil price of $52 per barrel in 2018. Wan Zulkiflee said Petronas is committed to pay a dividend of 19 billion ringgit to its sole shareholder, the Malaysian government, this year compared with 16 billion ringgit last year. It also plans capital expenditure of around 55 billion ringgit, higher than last year's 44.5 billion ringgit.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 11 February 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$52/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
Global liquid fuels
Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions
2018 was a year that started with crude prices at US$62/b and ended at US$46/b. In between those two points, prices had gently risen up to peak of US$80/b as the oil world worried about the impact of new American sanctions on Iran in September before crashing down in the last two months on a rising tide of American production. What did that mean for the financial health of the industry over the last quarter and last year?
Nothing negative, it appears. With the last of the financial results from supermajors released, the world’s largest oil firms reported strong profits for Q418 and blockbuster profits for the full year 2018. Despite the blip in prices, the efforts of the supermajors – along with the rest of the industry – to keep costs in check after being burnt by the 2015 crash has paid off.
ExxonMobil, for example, may have missed analyst expectations for 4Q18 revenue at US$71.9 billion, but reported a better-than-expected net profit of US$6 billion. The latter was down 28% y-o-y, but the Q417 figure included a one-off benefit related to then-implemented US tax reform. Full year net profit was even better – up 5.7% to US$20.8 billion as upstream production rose to 4.01 mmboe/d – allowing ExxonMobil to come close to reclaiming its title of the world’s most profitable oil company.
But for now, that title is still held by Shell, which managed to eclipse ExxonMobil with full year net profits of US$21.4 billion. That’s the best annual results for the Anglo-Dutch firm since 2014; product of the deep and painful cost-cutting measures implemented after. Shell’s gamble in purchasing the BG Group for US$53 billion – which sparked a spat of asset sales to pare down debt – has paid off, with contributions from LNG trading named as a strong contributor to financial performance. Shell’s upstream output for 2018 came in at 3.78 mmb/d and the company is also looking to follow in the footsteps of ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP in the Permian, where it admits its footprint is currently ‘a bit small’.
Shell’s fellow British firm BP also reported its highest profits since 2014, doubling its net profits for the full year 2018 on a 65% jump in 4Q18 profits. It completes a long recovery for the firm, which has struggled since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, allowing it to focus on the future – specifically US shale through the recent US$10.5 billion purchase of BHP’s Permian assets. Chevron, too, is focusing on onshore shale, as surging Permian output drove full year net profit up by 60.8% and 4Q18 net profit up by 19.9%. Chevron is also increasingly focusing on vertical integration again – to capture the full value of surging Texas crude by expanding its refining facilities in Texas, just as ExxonMobil is doing in Beaumont. French major Total’s figures may have been less impressive in percentage terms – but that it is coming from a higher 2017 base, when it outperformed its bigger supermajor cousins.
So, despite the year ending with crude prices in the doldrums, 2018 seems to be proof of Big Oil’s ability to better weather price downturns after years of discipline. Some of the control is loosening – major upstream investments have either been sanctioned or planned since 2018 – but there is still enough restraint left over to keep the oil industry in the black when trends turn sour.
Supermajor Net Profits for 4Q18 and 2018
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$6 billion (-28%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$20.8 (+5.7%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$5.69 billion (+32.3%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$21.4 billion (+36%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.73 billion (+19.9%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$14.8 billion (+60.8%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.48 billion (+65%);
- 2018 - Net profit US$12.7 billion (+105%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.88 billion (+16%);
- 2018 - Net profit US$13.6 billion (+28%)