Shell Misses Estimates as Earnings Plunge 70%

Royal Dutch Shell reported a more than 70 percent fall in quarterly profit on Thursday, well below analyst estimates, blaming weak oil prices, poor refining profits and higher charges resulting from its $54 billion acquisition of BG Group.

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Shell's current cost of supplies -- its definition of net income -- came to $1 billion in the second quarter, compared with analyst expectations of $2.2 billion and $3.8 billion achieved the same time last year.

"Lower oil prices continue to be a significant challenge across the business, particularly in the upstream (business)," said Chief Executive Ben van Beurden, who said last month he wants to turn Shell into the best oil company for investor returns.

Rivals BP and Statoil reported worse-than-expected second-quarter results this week mainly because analysts' expectations on costs reductions had been too optimistic.

French oil major Total fared better, beating expectations on Thursday.

Shell's London-listed 'A' shares opened 3 percent lower, compared with a 0.7 percent fall in the oil and gas companies index.

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Shell's second-quarter oil and gas production rose 28 percent year on year, mainly thanks to the contribution of BG assets, which Shell acquired for $54 billion earlier this year.

The company not only posted a loss in its oil production division but also saw lower income in most other segments including gas, petrochemical and oil refining.

Cash flow from operating activities for the second quarter 2016 was $2.3 billion compared with $6.1 billion for the same quarter last year, meaning it was not enough to even cover the dividend of $3.7 billion.

The BG acquisition and the need to fund investment despite the low oil price environment pushed the company's gearing to 28 percent at the end of the quarter versus 12.7 percent a year earlier. It saw its ratings cut this year.

Shell's return on average capital employed was 2.5 percent versus 7.6 percent at the end of the same quarter in 2015, showing the deep impact from weak prices.

Shell left its cost-cutting targets unchanged on Thursday but previously trimmed its capital investment program for 2016 to $29 billion versus $47 billion in 2014. It also wants to sell $30 billion of assets out to 2018 and is cutting 12,500 jobs over the 2015-16 period.

The firm said divestments for the second quarter were $1.0 billion, highlighting the struggle to find buyers in the current oil price environment.

For the second half of 2016, Shell warned its upstream earnings could be impacted by production losses in Nigeria. Shell has also deferred a final investment decision on its Lake Charles LNG plant in the U.S.

(Editing by Adrian Croft and Susan Thomas)