Royal Dutch Shell plc, in a snapshot of fourth quarter performance, said Friday it expects to write down up to $2.3 billion for the final three months of the year because of a mediocre economic outlook and trading headwinds in the natural gas division.
“Based on the macro outlook, post-tax impairment charges in the range of $1.7-2.3 billion are expected for the quarter,” Shell said in the pre-earnings note.
The supermajor did not detail what assets are facing impairments. However, earlier this month Chevron Corp. said it planned to take a $10-11 billion writedown for 4Q2019, with more than half related to Appalachian shale on weak natural gas prices. BP plc reported impairments in 3Q2019 totaled $2.6 billion, in part from divesting some U.S. natural gas assets at lower prices than expected.
Shell’s upstream production in 4Q2019 is expected to average 2.775-2.825 million boe/d, nearly flat with year-ago output of 2.809 million boe/d. Additional well write-offs in the range of $100-200 million are expected in 4Q2019 from a year ago.
The No. 1 global gas seller said the Integrated Gas segment’s production is forecast to average 920,000-970,000 boe/d in the fourth quarter, with liquefied natural gas (LNG) volumes of 8.8-9.4 million metric tons.
LNG volumes are expected to be average in the final period, up year/year but down sequentially. During 2018, Shell had about 20% of worldwide LNG sales, most matched with long-term sales agreements.
“As per previous disclosures, more than 80% of our term contracts for LNG sales in 2018 were oil price linked with a price-lag of typically three-to-six months,” Shell noted in the update. “Note that, as in previous quarters, cash flow from operations in Integrated Gas can be impacted by margining resulting from movements in the forward commodity curves.”
During the third quarter conference call, CFO Jessica Uhl had highlighted the strength of the Integrated Gas unit, which she said showed “how the current weak spot LNG prices have little impact on profitability in our business, with the oil price the main macro driver for the Integrated Gas results.” LNG contract reviews, a normal feature of long-term contracting, differ from contract to contract, she noted.
New LNG supply has continued to come online globally, leading to a surplus and in turn pushing down prices. U.S. facilities, however, were running at full steam in recent months. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated that from January through November, capacity utilization at Lower 48 terminals was averaging 93% baseload and 81% peak.
For its Downstream business, Shell said refining margins in 4Q2019 would be impacted by weak macro conditions and slower oil demand growth. Refiner availability is forecast to be at 91-93% compared with 94% in the year-ago period.
“Similar to the third quarter of 2019, refining margins are impacted by the continued weak macro environment,” Shell said. Oil product sales volumes should average 6.5-7.0 million b/d.
"Marketing margins are expected to be lower due to seasonal trends, and weaker compared to the fourth quarter 2018 due to crude price movements impacting retail margins," Shell said.
Because of weaker global conditions, capital expenditures for 2019 are expected to be at the lower end of the $24-29 billion range.