(Adds investor presentation material; updates stock, oil futures)
NEW YORK, Nov 8 (Reuters) - ConocoPhillips said on Wednesday it will boost output over the rest of the decade but vowed to do so only when it was financially prudent as executives emphasized a strict adherence to shareholder returns.
The largest U.S. independent oil and natural gas producer plans to spend an average of $5.5 billion annually for the next three years on capital projects as long as oil prices stay above $50 per barrel.
The spending forecast, an increase from 2017 and higher than many Wall Street analysts expected, comes as Conoco, like some peers, focuses more on generating profits than on boosting production at any cost.
The Houston-based company expects to more than double cash flow by the end of the decade.
Much of that discipline is aided by better technology and more efficient processes that help the company pump more for less. The company expects production to grow 5 percent each year for the rest of the decade, with output spiking in the Eagle Ford and Permian shales of Texas, two of the largest U.S. oilfields in that time frame.
Executive said they should be able to send more than 30 percent of cash flow back to shareholders in the form of dividends and share buybacks by 2020.
Shareholder returns are the "ultimate measure of value creation in our business," Chief Executive Officer Ryan Lance told investors during a presentation in New York.
Lance and his deputies were at pains to stress the focus on boosting profits and increasing production only when it makes financial sense.
"It's just not getting big for big's sake," Lance said. "It's about generating high-value earnings and cash flow to boost our returns."
ConocoPhillips also expects to pay off more than $4.6 billion of debt by 2020, reducing its debt load to $15 billion.
Much of the presentation was expected by analysts. Shares of Conoco shares edged up nearly 1 percent to $53.97 at midday as oil prices edged up by 0.2 percent. (Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)