Shell profits soar to highest in four years

Royal Dutch Shell has revealed its biggest profit haul for four years after earnings surged 36% thanks to higher oil and gas prices.

The blue chip giant posted underlying earnings of 21.4 billion US dollars (£16.3 billion) for 2018, with shares rising 4% as the result beat expectations.

Its fourth-quarter profits rose 32% to 5.7 billion US dollars (£4.3 billion) despite more recent falls in the cost of crude, with higher gas prices also boosting the result.

On a reported basis, earnings attributable to shareholders nearly doubled, up 97% to 23.8 billion US dollars (£18.1 billion).

Chief executive Ben van Beurden said: “Shell delivered a very strong financial performance in 2018.

“We delivered on our promises for the year, including the completion of the 30 billion US dollar divestment programme and starting up key growth projects while maintaining discipline on capital investment.”

As well as higher oil prices throughout the bulk of the year, Shell also benefited from dramatic cost-cutting, while it has likewise been selling off assets.

Mr van Beurden has been leading an ambitious cost-cutting drive since the industry was buffeted by the 2014 oil price crash.

On announcing the full-year results, he also cheered the completion of his 30 billion US dollar (£23 billion) divestment initiative.

But looking ahead to the first quarter of 2019, Shell said it was braced for declining production in its integrated gas and upstream divisions due to the impact of divestments.

Oil products sales volumes are also expected to fall in the first quarter.

Mr van Beurden also stressed the group would remain disciplined on spending this year.

The robust results come despite fears of a fourth-quarter hit after the oil price rally seen since 2016 finally ran out of steam last autumn.

The price of Brent crude ended the year lower than it did at the start –
closing the year at 54 US dollars (£41) a barrel compared with 67 (£51) in
January 2018 due to concerns of a slowdown in demand as global growth eases, combined with rising inventories.

Crude currently stands at nearly 62 US dollars a barrel.

Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “With the oil price looking healthier than in 2017, Shell has transformed into a giant cash machine and that’s funding investment, debt repayments and some whopping great returns to shareholders.”

Shell announced in November it would buy up to 2.5 billion US dollars (£1.9 billion) of shares in the second tranche of its buyback programme.

“The group first launched the share buyout plan in July, having promised the
move to investors since taking over rival BG Group in a mammoth 54 billion US dollar (£41 billion) deal in 2016.