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Shell's Asset Sales Continuing, with Haynesville Portfolio Possibly Cut

Royal Dutch Shell plc is aiming high but going smaller, with asset sales continuing as it shifts more resources to global natural gas projects and a narrow set of North American unconventional opportunities. Investments also will continue in renewables, regardless of any shift in U.S. policies, the CEO said Thursday.

The supermajor last year divested $15 billion of its global assets, but at least $5 billion more in assets are on the market as Shell regains its mojo following the $50 billion takeover of BG Group plc last year.

"We are really making good progress in reshaping Shell to a world class investment case," CEO Ben van Beurden said. "2016 has been a transition year for us; 2017 will be the year that we follow through on the strategy."

The company already is "operating...at an underlying cost level that is $10 billion lower than Shell and BG combined only 24 months ago."

The transaction, criticized by financial experts and shareholders, finally appears to be paying off. Cash flow from operations climbed year/year by almost 70% in the final three months to $9.2 billion, more than enough to cover dividend payments. Debt levels also declined to $73 billion at the end of December from $78 billion in September.

Volumes Rise 28%

Production-wise, the BG merger built a warehouse of gas reserves opportunities, and with them potential export projects. Oil and gas volumes rose 28% in 4Q2016 to 3.905 million boe/d, an increase of 28% from 4Q2015, which included 824,000 boe/d from BG assets.

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) volumes rose by 51% from 4Q2015 to 8.57 million metric tons (mmt), of which BG contributed 2.37 mmt. Full-year 2016 LNG liquefaction volumes were 30.88 mmt, versus 2015 volumes of 22.62 mmt. Sales volumes in the final period, which totaled 15.34 mmt, were 51% higher year/year, while full-year 2016 LNG sales were 57.11 mmt from 39.24 mmt in 2015.

Compared to 2014, the overall portfolio by 2018 should add 1 million boe/d, or $10 billion of cash generation with oil prices at around $60/bbl, CFO Simon Henry said.

"We emerged clearly stronger by the end of 2016," Henry said during a conference call to discuss results. "The next couple of days will indicate who really got it and who acted most efficiently...You should just go compare," he said, in a sideways jab at critics. ExxonMobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. have reported their quarterly results; BP plc is on tap to deliver on Tuesday.

Shell consolidated some of its North American portfolio during the final period. In Canada, Shell completed the sale of its 100% interest in 145,000 net acres in the Deep Basin, as well as 61,000 net acres in Gundy. In the United States, Shell sold all of its 100% stake in the Brutus tension leg platform (TLP, the Glider subsea production system and the oil and gas lateral pipelines used to evacuate the production from the TLP in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) for $425 million plus royalty interests. Also in the United States, Shell completed the dilution of 20% of its interest in the Kaikias development in the GOM, retaining an 80% stake.

Shell is planning its operations with an oil price of $50/bbl this year. Capital expenditures (capex) are set at around $25 billion this year, which would be higher than ExxonMobil, which is planning a $19.3 billion budget.

During the fourth quarter, the current cost of supplies, or CCS, comparable to U.S. net earnings, was $1.0 billion (13 cents/share), down from year-ago CCS of $1.8 billion (29 cents). Cash flow from operating activities was $9.2 billion, compared with $5.4 billion in 4Q2015. For the full year, CCS fell from 2015 to $3.5 billion from $3.8 billion.

Permian Partnership Likely Changing

While global gas projects are taking priority for the next few years, North American unconventionals won't be forsaken, Henry told analysts. Spending in the shales this year is set at around $2 billion, flat from 2016. Shell is a 50-50 partner with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. in part of the Permian Basin of Texas, a joint venture in the Delaware sub-basin that is due to expire this summer. Anadarko CEO Al Walker had said during a quarterly conference call on Wednesday that the partners would continue to work together.

Henry added a bit more color about the Permian venture, telling analysts that Shell is renegotiating the partnership, which has been in place for almost five years. The operations likely will be "consolidated in a different way," he said.

Combined, production from the Permian and Canada's Fox Creek Basin within the Duvernay formation should grow by around 140,000 boe/d in the near-term, Henry added. Meanwhile, the gassy Haynesville Shale portfolio, acquired in the BG merger, "won't necessarily stay in our portfolio."

Like other quarterly conference calls this go-round, Shell executives were asked about President Trump's agenda. Milton Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who led the Trump transition on issues related to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency until the inauguration, said late last month he was certain the president would pull the United States out of the landmark United Nations climate change accord reached with 200 countries in late 2015. Regarding climate change, Ebell said he and Trump agreed that it was "pretty clear that the problem or the crisis has been overblown and overstated."

However, the U.S. administration can't derail the "unstoppable" growth in renewable energy, van Beurden said in response to questions. He reiterated, "Climate change is real; action is needed." The move to more sustainable forms of energy will continue regardless of what the Trump administration does and Shell plans to be "at the vanguard" rather than "fighting a defensive action," he said.

Still, the renewables portfolio is only going to see around $1 billion/year in spending for the foreseeable future -- a fraction of overall capex. The company has to "participate" in the renewables sector, van Beurden said, "in order to learn, but we are not going to go in at a level that could be considered reckless."

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