ConocoPhillips profit beats as U.S. shale bet pays off

(Reuters) - ConocoPhillips beat quarterly profit estimates on Tuesday, benefiting from higher output from its U.S. shale assets, in a vote of confidence in the oil producer’s strategy to refocus its investments in the lucrative Permian, Eagle Ford and Bakken areas.

FILE PHOTO: Logos of ConocoPhillips are seen in its booth at Gastech, the world's biggest expo for the gas industry, in Chiba, Japan, April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

The company has been selling its non-core assets to invest in its U.S. shale fields, which hold oil and gas deposits that can produce supplies for decades using low-cost drilling techniques.

ConocoPhillips has earmarked about 70 percent of its capital expenditure this year for the United States with about 55 percent targeting the areas in U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico collectively called the “Lower 48” and Canada.

Total production, excluding operations in Libya, rose by 94,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) to 1.32 million boepd in the first quarter, with output from the three shale areas up 30 percent year-over-year.

Analysts at Piper Jaffray’s Simmons Energy also attributed the profit beat to better-than-expected price for the company’s oil and gas as well as lower-than expected costs.

Average realized price of $49.23 per barrel of oil equivalent (boe) was 9 percent above the brokerage’s estimate, while production and operating expenses were 8.5 percent lower than what it had anticipated, the analysts wrote in a note.

ConocoPhillips also said it generated $2.94 billion in cash from operations, which included about $130 million pretax gain related to its settlement with Venezuela’s state-run oil firm PDVSA International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

Last year, Conoco received a $2.04 billion award from the ICC involving broken contracts on some of the same assets. PDVSA agreed to pay the award and delivered $400 million after Conoco began to seize assets in the Caribbean to enforce the ruling.

Adjusted net earnings came in at $1.15 billion, or $1 per share, in the quarter ended March 31, compared with $1.14 billion, or 96 cents per share, a year earlier.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of 90 cents per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

For the second quarter, the company expects output to be 1.24 million boepd to 1.28 million boepd, excluding Libya, on maintenance activities in Alaska, Canada and Europe.

Shares of the company were up 1.7 percent at $63.75 in early trading.

Reporting by Shanti S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Shailesh Kuber