Higher Oil Prices, Asset Sales Boost Conoco Profit

Published January 25, 2012 2:54PM (EST)

NEW YORK (AP) — Higher oil prices are making it easier for ConocoPhillips to complete a massive transformation this year.

The Houston company said Wednesday that profits rose 66.1 percent in the fourth quarter. Much of that came from the sale of pipelines and other assets that rose in value with the price of oil.

From October to December, ConocoPhillips earned $3.39 billion, or $2.56 per share, compared with $2.04 billion, or $1.39 per share a year earlier. Revenue increased 17.2 percent to $62.4 billion.

Excluding gains, earnings were $2.02 per share. Analysts had expected earnings of $1.77 per share on revenue of $45.1 billion.

ConocoPhillips is in the final stages of a three-year overhaul of its worldwide operations. Since 2010, the company shed $10.7 billion in assets, including some of its least profitable businesses, and it plans to sell more than $1 billion more by the end of 2012.

It also will spin off its refining business into a separate company, Phillips 66, before June.

As it closed operations, worldwide oil production declined, including a 13.3 percent drop in the final three months of 2011. Exploration and production profits fell 5 percent in the quarter, but the decline would have been much worse if not for an increase in oil and natural gas prices.

ConocoPhillips sold crude worldwide for an average of $97.22 in the quarter, up 22.4 percent from the same period last year. It sold natural gas for $5.34 per 1,000 cubic feet, up 4.9 percent from last year.

Meanwhile, refining and market profits soared as the company sold $1.55 billion in pipelines and other refining assets. Altogether, the company's refining business earned $1.7 billion in the quarter.

ConocoPhillips' chemicals unit increased profits 32.2 percent to $156 million and its midstream business increased earnings 30 percent to $118 million.

For the full year, ConocoPhillips said it earned $12.4 billion, or $8.97 per share, compared with $11.4 billion, or $7.62 per share, in 2010. Annual revenue increased 26.5 percent to $251.2 billion.

ConocoPhillips is the first major oil company to report financial results for the fourth quarter. Chevron Corp. plans to release its quarterly figures on Friday, followed by Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell next week. Occidental Petroleum Corp. on Wednesday reported a 35 percent jump in quarterly profits as it increased production and sold crude for higher prices.

ConocoPhillips shares fell by 11 cents to $70.50 in morning trading.

By Salon Staff

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