Royal Dutch Shell plc nearly tripled net profits in the second quarter from a year ago in what may be a harbinger of things to come.
Quarterly profit on a current cost-of-supplies (CCS) basis, a European metric similar to U.S. net profits, was $5.2 billion (63 cents/share) versus $1.2 billion (23 cents) in 2Q2017. Cash flow from operations was $9.5 billion, down 16% from a year ago.
Integrated gas profits, which includes Shell’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) business, climbed in the quarter to $2.305 billion from year-ago profits of nearly $1.17 billion. Upstream profits rose to about $1.15 billion from $339 million. Downstream earnings declined to $1.66 billion from $2.529 billion.
Stronger results, combined with strong free cash flow and declining debt, led the Anglo-Dutch major to launch a $25 billion share buyback program to reward investors.
“This quarter, our cash flow from operations, excluding working capital movements, is the strongest since the first quarter of 2014, when the oil price was above $100/bbl,” CEO Ben van Beurden said during a conference call. “Our financial framework remains unchanged. Our free cash flow outlook and the progress we have made to strengthen our financial framework give us the confidence to start our buy-back program.”
Share buybacks are planned through 2020.
“We came into 2018 with momentum and have maintained it with sustained performance and higher oil prices in the first half of the year,” said the CEO. “Our recent portfolio announcements show the progress we have made.”
Nearly all of van Beurden’s commentary centered around the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), where he highlighted how costs have fallen, discoveries have risen and final investment decisions (FID) are being made. Shell has expanded its reach beyond U.S. waters and is steadily building a portfolio of projects offshore Mexico as well.
In the GOM, where Shell is a leading producer, output today is around 240,000 boe/d, with production on track to hit 400,000 boe/d by 2020, the CEO said.
“We also won nine key blocks in the Mexican side of the Gulf,” van Beurden said. “This acreage is nearly three times larger than our existing position in the U.S. part of the Gulf. So, these blocks are the equivalent of starting a whole new heartland in a single day. The proximity and technical similarity of these new blocks to our leading position in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico will allow us to benefit from -- and build upon -- 40 years of experience in the region.”
The GOM developments across Mexican and U.S. waters “are entirely in line with our exploration strategy,” he said, focused on “near-field exploration, filling our hubs and seeking not only material volumes but also short lead times between discovery and first production.”
Vito, the most recent project in U.S. deepwater to receive a positive FID, “will enter the construction phase with a forward-looking breakeven price below $35/bbl, after we brought down costs by 70% from the original concept.”
Projects offshore are being done at a lower cost similar to the deepwater Kaikias development, which ramped up four years from discovery to first production, with a 30% cost reduction post-FID.
“Appomattox has seen a similar 30% cost reduction post-FID,” said van Beurden. “And, following the completion of the pre-drill campaign and the sail away of the facility for offshore installation in June, the project is on track for first oil delivery in 2019.”
In the past two years Shell’s GOM operating expenses overall have declined by more than 20%, “and we are looking to improve this further. And this year, we unlocked or restored more than 30,000 b/d of production by optimizing the performance of our existing wells, reservoirs and facilities.”
The Shell chief also discussed LNG developments, but he side-stepped any mention of when the proposed LNG Canada project may get a green light. Some analysts had expected Shell to issue a positive FID as part of its earnings results as engineering contractors already are working at the proposed site and TransCanada Corp. is advancing complementary pipeline work. In addition, British Columbia has given LNG developers only until November to take advantage of a big tax break for gas export projects.
The substantial --- and growing -- global LNG business reported sales rising 12% year/year to 17.97 million metric tons.
Among its many LNG projects, the Prelude floating LNG facility offshore Australia received gas in June, and that followed with liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) imported into the facility.
“This means the facility is now live,” van Beurden said. “With LNG and LPG onboard, the Prelude team can now start testing processes and systems before the subsea wells are opened. The offshore team is preparing for that moment, getting the seven wells tied to the facility and ready to flow. Based on our current commissioning schedule, we are on track to start up production this year.”
Shell expects new projects delivered since 2014 to generate $10 billion in additional cash flow from operations by the end of this year, and $15 billion by the end of 2020, at $60/bbl real terms 2016.
“In the first half of 2018 we have delivered an estimated $5 billion,” said van Beurden. “I am confident that we will deliver $10 billion by the end of this year. We remain on track to deliver our 2020 organic free cash flow outlook of $25-30 billion, or $50-60 billion cash flow from operations excluding working capital, at $60/bbl real terms 2016.”
Shell remains “firmly committed” to spending between $25-30 billion for capital investments.
The operator’s natural gas and oil production overall declined in 2Q2018 from a year ago by about 1.5% to 3.4 million boe/d, mostly because of divestments and field declines. Excluding acquisitions and divestments, upstream production climbed 5.4%.