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Shell to cut spending by $15B over next 3 years

Royal Dutch Shell shares fell on Thursday after the oil company missed profit expectations and announced a three-year, $15 billion (10 billion pound) cut in spending reflecting a steep fall in oil prices.

Chief Executive Ben van Beurden however warned against an over reaction to the 60 percent drop in oil prices since June, while keeping dividends unchanged to soothe investors.

"We are taking a prudent approach here and we must be careful not to over-react to the recent fall in oil prices," van Beurden said.

Shell shares were down 3.7 percent at 0826 GMT after the company's fourth-quarter 2014 adjusted net income of $3.3 billion missed market expectations by more than 20 percent.

"It was a big miss in upstream," said Raymond James analyst Bertran Hodee.

Shell branded Tri-Sure tab-seal barrel caps are sorted ahead of fitting to oil drums at Royal Dutch Shell Plc's lubricants blending plant in Torzhok, Russia.
Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Shell branded Tri-Sure tab-seal barrel caps are sorted ahead of fitting to oil drums at Royal Dutch Shell Plc's lubricants blending plant in Torzhok, Russia.

The $15 billion spending cut, which will involve cancelling and deferring projects through 2017, which would represent a 14 percent cut per year from 2014 capital investment of $35 billion.

Reflecting the new oil price environment, Shell, having said in October it would keep its 2015 spending unchanged, announced it would have to cut what is one of the largest capital investment programmes in the industry.

"Shell is considering further reductions to capital spending should the evolving market outlook warrant that step, but is aiming to retain growth potential for the medium term," it said in a statement.

Oil prices have fallen because of weak global demand and a boom in U.S. shale production. OPEC in November decided not to cut output as the group of oil producing nations hopes to force other producers to trim production.

Oil majors including rivals BP and Total have said they do not intend to cut their dividends, a key attraction for investors, even if oil prices remain low.

Most have already announced cuts in capital expenditures of around 10-15 percent and sold assets worth dozens of billions of dollars.

But they have warned against cutting too much as it could derail long-term projects, destroy the value of companies and potentially even lead to an oil shortage in the future.

Dividend maintained

Shell maintained its fourth-quarter dividend unchanged from the previous quarter at $0.47 per share and in a rare move pledged to pay the same amount in the first quarter of 2015.

Income from oil production, known as upstream, dropped by 30 percent from a year earlier to $1.73 billion due to lower oil prices.

This was offset by a near tripling of earnings from the refining and trading division to $1.55 billion.

A low borrowing ratio of 12 percent at the end of 2014 leaves room for further lending, however, placing Shell in a strong position to deal with the low oil prices, Hodee said.