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Record output helps Total to post smaller than expected profit slide

PARIS (Reuters) - French oil major Total TOTF.PA reported a smaller than expected third-quarter profit fall as record production growth countered crude and gas price declines that sent profit down 24% year on year.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of French oil giant Total is seen on a flag at La Defense business and financial district in Courbevoie near Paris, France. May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

Output rose 8.4% year on year to more than 3 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, with the company saying it is on track to hit 9% output growth this year thanks to new projects and ramp-ups in Russia, Angola, Nigeria, Norway and Britain.

“The group continues to achieve solid results despite a third-quarter environment ... marked by an 18% decrease in the Brent price to $62 per barrel and gas prices that fell by about 55% in Europe and Asia,” CEO Patrick Pouyanne said in a statement.

Debt-adjusted cash flow fell 2% to $7.4 billion while adjusted net profit slumped by 24% to $3.02 billion.

The company’s shares were up 1% in early trade and among the top gainers on the Paris bourse.

Analysts at Jefferies described Total’s income as a “strong beat”, 7% above the broker’s own estimate of the company’s adjusted net profit for the quarter.

“Bottom line, stronger than expected wherever you look ... despite lower quarter-on-quarter oil and gas prices. The machine is working,” Credit Suisse said in a note, adding that net profit beat Total’s expectations for $2.8 billion.

Rival BP BP.L on Tuesday reported profit down 40% and Italy's ENI <ENI.MI last week post a 44% profit slide.

Total said that output growth particularly in liquefied natural gas production (LNG) that jumped by 55% helped it to generate strong cashflow.

Its downstream businesses, including marketing and services as well as refining and chemicals, also had strong cashflow growth, rising 14% to $2 billion.

“Despite the volatile European refining margins, the downstream is well positioned to generate cashflow close to $7 billion in 2019,” Total said.

The group bought back $1.15 billion of its shares in September and will buy back a total of $1.75 billion of its shares in 2019 as part of its $5 billion buyback programme over the 2018 to 2020 period.

Total said it will speed dividend growth and plans to reward shareholders with a third interim dividend of 0.68 euros per share, up 6% increase on 2018.

Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by David Holmes and David Goodman