UPDATE 2-Total beats quarterly forecasts despite low oil price, lifts payout

Bate Felix

* Analysts had forecast quarterly net profit of $2.7 bln

* Rival oil firms have reported plunging quarterly profit

* Company on track for $5 bln divestments in 2019-2020 (Adds comment by analysts, details on divestitures)

ABERDEEN, Scotland, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Total beat forecasts on Thursday by keeping net adjusted profit for the fourth quarter steady at $3.2 billion despite low oil prices and fulfilled a pledge to boost dividends, lifting the French energy major's shares.

Analysts had forecasts net profit of about $2.7 billion.

Total's shares rose about 3% before easing off their highs.

"This performance is better than that of our rivals in terms of resisting low oil prices," Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne told journalists, adding Total was rewarding investors with a 6% increase in the final dividend for 2019 to 0.68 euros per share.

He said the group reported solid fourth quarter 2019 results with debt-adjusted cash flow (DACF) at $7.4 billion, an increase of more than 20% compared with the fourth quarter of 2018.

"While some peers buckled last week to a synchronized slowdown in their commodity prices and margins, Total has bucked that trend with flat year-on-year net income," Bernstein analysts wrote, adding that net income and net operating income were both ahead forecasts.

The Bernstein analysts, which rate the stock "outperform," said liquefied natural gas (LNG) margins "also beat our expectations as the company proved immune to low spot gas prices despite market concerns."

LNG prices have been under pressure as new projects have kept the market well supplied, while oil prices have tumbled from last year's peak in April of almost $75 a barrel. On Thursday, benchmark Brent was trading around $55.

Rivals have seen profits slide in the fourth quarter, as falling oil prices took their toll. London-based BP reported a 26% drop in quarterly income on Tuesday, while Royal Dutch Shell said last month its profits in the last quarter halved.


Total's oil and gas production grew by 9% in 2019 compared with the previous year thanks to start ups and ramp ups of projects, while its liquefied natural gas (LNG) business doubled, boosting its cash flow.

Pouyanne said exceptional production growth was unlikely to continue in the years to come and output growth for 2020 was seen at 2% to 4%, a more typical level in the industry.

"Taking into account the strong visibility on cash flow, the group will continue to increase the dividend with the guidance of 5% to 6% per year," the company said in its statement.

Total bought back $1.75 billion of its shares in 2019 and plans to buy back $2 billion more in 2020 with oil at $60 per barrel.

The company also said its capital expenditure target for 2020 would be unchanged at $18 billion.

Total said it was on track to achieve its target of $5 billion in divestments during 2019 and 2020.

As part of the plan, the company said it had sold its 27.5% interest in Fosmax LNG, which operates France's Fos Cavaou LNG terminal, to Engie unit Elengy for about $260 million.

Jefferies analysts said the results were well ahead of expectations and said Total expected to complete its $5 billion divestiture target with transactions worth $3 billion so far.

(Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Alexander Smith and Edmund Blair)