ConocoPhillips expects its first quarter oil and natural gas production to be “slightly less” sequentially over the fourth quarter of 2003, the company said Monday.

In an update preceding its first quarter report, which is set for April 28, the company said higher output in Norway, Vietnam and Venezuela would be more than offset by the impact of asset sales, along with lower production in the United Kingdom.

” Improved segment earnings are expected to be negatively impacted by a reduction in U.S. wholesale and retail marketing margins, as a result of increasing product costs, as well as by lower co-products margins and higher utility costs,” the company said in a statement. “Turnaround costs are expected to be approximately $80 million before-tax.” Average crude oil refining capacity utilization rate for the first quarter is expected to be in the mid 90% range, about the same as the prior quarter.

Because of early retirement of debt and merger-related costs, ConocoPhillips reported that its corporate expenses from continuing operations are expected to be lower sequentially. The company’s balance sheet debt level at the end of the first quarter is expected to be $17.1 billion, representing approximately $700 million in debt reduction from the end of 2003.

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