* EBIT up 11 pct to 39.6 bln crowns, vs forecast 38.2 bln
* Shale gas, LNG seen hitting natural gas markets
* No big impact on own Mexico Gulf operations from BP spill
* Oil liquids prices up 48 pct in crowns, gas off 35 pct
* Shares down 2 percent, lagging peers
(Adds analyst on M&A, more on BP spill impact)
By Wojciech Moskwa and Joergen Frich
OSLO, May 5 Norwegian major Statoil (STL.OL)
said gas markets would stay challenging as large-scale
development of shale gas and LNG kept prices low.
Statoil, which on Wednesday reported a strong first quarter
boosted by pricey oil, signalled again it might slow gas
production if prices stay under pressure due to the additional
supply and with industrial demand for natural gas crippled by
Europe's No.2 gas supplier after Gazprom (GAZP.MM)
reaffirmed its oil and gas production guidance, but said
commodity prices would remain volatile and the gas market would
"be challenging in the near term".
Statoil said average gas prices in the quarter slumped 35
percent compared to a year ago to 1.64 crowns per cubic metre.
"Gas demand is still weak and supply is growing particularly
fast due to new LNG (liquefied natural gas) and shale gas in the
United States," Chief Executive Helge Lund told reporters.
"The latter in particular will be expected to dominate the
pricing picture for some time. We expect the gas market to
gradually tighten and moderate price increases going forward."
Statoil's adjusted earnings before interest and tax rose to
39.6 billion Norwegian crowns ($6.7 billion) in January-March
from 35.5 billion a year ago, beating an average forecast of
38.2 billion in a Reuters poll.
Higher first-quarter crude prices have also lifted profits
for majors Exxon Mobil (XOM.N), Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) and
BP (BP.L). [ID:nN30194307]
"Statoil's results today are not going to be sufficient to
move the stock higher, especially after large beats from peers
over the last few weeks," said Bernstein analyst Oswald Clint.
"While reaffirmation of guidance is positive we continue to
expect rising pressures to meet medium- and longer-term
production targets without large scale M&A," Clint added,
pointing to a 7 percent year-on-year drop in Norwegian output.
GULF OF MEXICO
To offset dropping production at home, Statoil has
aggressively bought acreage in the Gulf of Mexico, among other
Most of Statoil's Mexico Gulf developments remain far from
production, even before BP's massive oil spill in the Gulf
raised fresh questions over U.S. offshore safety regulations.
Lund said the spill had not impacted Statoil's activities in
the Gulf other than a one-day stop at a rig owned by Transocean
(RIG.N) to allow friends and relatives of those killed in the BP
accident on another Transocean platform to leave.
For a map of Statoil assets in the Gulf, click on:
Statoil is one of the world's top deep-water producers, with
the majority of its output from fields in Norwegian waters.
"The events and developments of the last days are obviously
very serious," Lund said of the spill. "It is too early to
conclude what caused this but I am certain the industry and
authorities will do everything to uncover what happened and
reduce the chances of something similar happening again."
Statoil affirmed its 2010 oil and gas production target of
1.925-1.975 million barrels of oil equivalent per day and its
2.1-2.2 million 2012 goal, depending on prices of natural gas.
"When it comes to (production) guidance, I remind you that
we focus on value and not volumes," Lund told reporters.
Unlike many of its peers, Statoil failed to capitalise on
the higher oil prices with its production falling 1 percent to
1.915 million barrels per day in the first quarter.
Exxon, Chevron (CVX.N) and Total (TOTF.PA) recorded oil and
gas production growth of 4.5 percent versus a year ago. Shell
led with a 6 percent gain, though BP's production was flat.
Shares in Statoil were off 2.0 percent at 139.4 crowns at
1049 GMT, lagging a rising STXE 600 Oil and Gas Index .SXEP.
($1 = 5.937 Norwegian crowns)
(Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)