ConocoPhillips swings to a profit, helped by rising crude prices

Key Points
  • ConocoPhillips swung to a quarterly profit, helped in part by rising crude prices.
  • ConocoPhillips also raised its quarterly dividend to 28.5 cents and increased its 2018 buyback plan by 33 percent to $2 billion.
The refinery near Philadelphia that Delta bought in 2012.
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ConocoPhillips said on Thursday it swung to a quarterly profit due in part to rising crude prices, helping the U.S. oil and gas producer boost its dividend and expand a share buyback program.

The moves are likely to appease shareholders who have been clamoring for oil producers to focus more on margins and other shareholder-friendly metrics rather than production increases.

As oil prices have gained more than 33 percent since last fall, Conoco has vowed to boost output only when it was financially prudent and said that it would strictly adhere to shareholder returns. The company sold off $16 billion worth of assets in the past year, helping to cut its debt load.

"While the outlook for commodity prices has improved, our operating plan remains unchanged and we have already taken clear actions to demonstrate our commitment to maintain discipline and follow our priorities," Chief Executive Ryan Lance said in a statement.

Shares of Houston-based Conoco rose 2 percent to $59.95 in premarket trading.

The company posted fourth-quarter net income of $1.58 billion, or $1.32 per share, compared to a net loss of $35 million, or 3 cents per share, in the year-ago period.

Excluding one-time items, Conoco earned 45 cents per share, matching analyst expectations, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Quarterly production fell 23 percent to 1.2 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, due in part to asset sales. The divestments shrunk Conoco's reserves by nearly 2 billion barrels of oil equivalent, denting future growth potential.

The company's Canadian operations lost money during the quarter, offset by profit in U.S. assets, as well as projects in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The bulk of the company's quarterly profit came from Alaska, where Conoco said on Thursday it paid $400 million to Anadarko Petroleum for a 22 percent stake in the Western North Slope and a pipeline.

ConocoPhillips raised its quarterly dividend to 28.5 cents and increased its 2018 buyback plan by 33 percent to $2 billion.

The company expects a 2018 capital budget of $5.5 billion, in line with a forecast announced last fall for the next three years.