UPDATE 2-Hess looking over proposal to break up company-CEO

Wed Jan 30, 2013 4:51pm EST

* Hess 'looking carefully' at breakup proposal

* Company going forward with production focus

* 4th-qtr earnings $1.66/share vs loss $0.39 year earlier

Jan 30 (Reuters) - Hess Corp, which is under pressure from an activist investor to break up the company, is "looking carefully" at that proposal, Chief Executive John Hess told analysts on Wednesday.

He said the company was considering proposals from hedge fund Elliott Management to consider a spinoff of its U.S. onshore assets and the sale of retail operations.

He noted the company's ongoing efforts to sell non-core assets - including an exit from the refining business - and pour more than 90 percent of its capital into exploration and production.

"We have no sacred cows in the business. We have no sacred cows in the boardroom," he said.

But he declined to address Elliott's proposals, which also include a plan to nominate five directors to the company's board.

Hess said the company would respond "in a short period of time."

Elliott had said Hess could be worth more than $126 per share if the company split itself. Hess shares, which closed down 0.3 percent at $67.88 on Wednesday, have gained nearly 16 percent since the activist investor's plan to buy a 4 percent stake in Hess was disclosed on Monday.

Also on Monday, Hess, which is looking to become a predominantly exploration and production company, announced plans to sell its oil storage terminal network and its New Jersey refinery, a year after shutting its much larger joint-venture St. Croix refinery.

On Wednesday, the company reported a fourth-quarter profit as production soared from its wells in North Dakota's Bakken shale, where Hess has a substantial foothold.

The company's oil and gas production rose 8 percent to 396,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d). Production from the oil-rich Bakken soared 68 percent to 64,000 boe/d.

North Dakota has became the second-largest oil producer in the United States after Texas, just a few years after oil companies unlocked the state's oil bounty in the Bakken.

Hess told analysts that the company expects its Bakken production in 2013 to range from 64,000 to 70,000 boe/d.

He noted that the company last year cut Bakken drilling and well completion costs by more than 30 percent while production increased.

Greg Hill, executive vice president of worldwide exploration and production, said switching to lower-cost drilling methods and completion design cut per-well costs to $9 million in the fourth quarter from $13.4 million in the first quarter last year.

The company has earmarked a capital and exploratory budget of $6.8 billion for the year.

Hess posted a profit of $566 million, or $1.66 per share in the fourth quarter, compared with a loss of $131 million, or 39 cents per share, a year earlier.

Revenue rose 10 percent to $9.69 billion.

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