Equinor Produces More Oil Than Predicted

(Bloomberg) --

Norway’s Equinor ASA beat profit and cash-flow estimates after pumping more oil and gas than predicted.

First-quarter results at the state-controlled producer cap a mixed series of earnings for the major oil companies as the industry turns a page on the 2014-2017 downturn. Supermajors BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc met or exceeded estimates thanks to trading gains and strong natural-gas results, while Exxon Mobil Corp. had its worst refining performance in almost two decades.

“We maintain high production, continue with strong cost focus and strict capital discipline, and we are on track to deliver on our guidance from our Capital Markets Update in February," Equinor Chief Executive Officer Eldar Saetre said Friday in a statement.

Equinor’s adjusted net income rose to $1.54 billion in the quarter from $1.47 billion a year earlier, beating the average analyst estimate of $1.31 billion in a Bloomberg survey.

Equinor rose as much as 2 percent in Oslo trading, and was up 0.8 percent at 192.1 kroner as of 10:41 a.m. in the Norwegian capital.

The company produced “a strong set of numbers,” Jon Masdal, an analyst at DNB ASA, said in a note. Natural-gas output in Norway helped push total production above expectations, according to RBC Capital Markets.

Output Steady

The company pumped 2.178 million barrels of oil equivalent a day in the quarter, little changed from a year earlier but exceeding the average estimate of 2.163 million in a company survey. It maintained plans to keep output flat this year, then increase it 3 percent a year on average until 2025.

Equinor also managed the fallout from a steep drop in European gas prices in the quarter, realizing the same price as a year earlier just as it boosted production of the fuel in Norway.

Read more about how gas helped Shell beat estimates this week

Equinor generated $6.5 billion in cash flow from operations, compared with a JPMorgan Cazenove prediction of $4.5 billion. The net-debt ratio shrank to 19.4 percent from 22.2 percent at the end of 2018, falling below 20 percent for the first time since the end of 2014. Equinor has a long-term gearing-target range of 15 to 30 percent.

Nevertheless, the company gave no sign it’s about to start a buyback program, with Saetre saying in an interview he’ll continue to prioritize cash dividends and debt reduction. Investors shouldn’t expect the debt ratio to “automatically go down” further, Chief Financial Officer Lars Christian Bacher said in a separate interview following an earnings presentation in Oslo.

Equinor is keeping plans to increase investment to about $11 billion this year after making drastic cuts during the market slump. The company will pay a dividend of 26 cents a share for the quarter, after deciding earlier this year to raise payouts by 13 percent.

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