(Compares with estimate, adds fourth-quarter details and industry background)
Feb 4 (Reuters) - U.S. oil and gas producer ConocoPhillips reported a lower-than-expected quarterly adjusted profit on Tuesday and boosted its share buyback program by $10 billion.
Investors have made higher returns a key priority, pressing oil and gas drillers to boost buybacks and dividends instead of growing production at a time when commodity pricing remains volatile.
Conoco said its realized price per barrel fell 11.3% in the quarter.
Oil prices have taken a hit from the prolonged trade war between the United States and China, and a glut of shale supply in North America.
The company confirmed it would spend $6.5 billion to $6.7 billion in 2020 and said it expects its annual production to range from 1.230 to 1.270 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d), which includes the impact of a recent third-party pipeline outage on the Kebabangan Field in Malaysia.
ConocoPhillips said in November it would boost its oil and gas production by about 3% per year, restrain annual spending to about $7 billion and return $50 billion to shareholders over the next decade.
The Houston-based company's adjusted net income fell 36.5% to $831 million in the quarter ended Dec.31. as it bore the brunt of lower output and realized crude prices.
On a per share basis, it earned 76 cents, while analysts had expected a profit of 80 cents, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
Total production, excluding Libya, fell by 24,000 boe/d to 1.289 million boe/d. (Reporting by Shanti S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel)