Hedges Save StatoilHydro's Skin

Last quarter, taxes were the savior of the company formerly known as Statoil. Now StatoilHydro (NYSE: STO  ) has a currency-hedging program to thank for its superficially spiffy third-quarter results. But we Fools know better than to take the overrated net income figure at face value. Beneath the surface, something is rotten in the state of Norway.

The company reported 1% higher revenue and 2% lower daily production volumes, which together don't exactly sound like the recipe for potent profits. Nonetheless, there it is: a net income gain of 26%. The boost clearly didn't come from Statoil's operating income, which plummeted 19% on higher expenses.

No, the magic happened below the operating line, with something called "net financial items" juicing pre-tax income by 23%. The item responsible for the boost was an outsized foreign exchange gain. StatoilHydro, like just about every operator facing currency risk, uses hedges to guard against fluctuations. The Norwegian krone appreciated against the dollar appreciably, and the firm recognized a gain on its hedge.

In accounting land, StatoilHydro was spared, but in the real world, it didn't fare much better than behemoth BP (NYSE: BP  ) . Actually, BP's upstream and refining segments were a mess, so scratch that. It would be quite a feat to out-mediocre BP today. But just like ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) (NYSE: RDS-B  ) , this is yet another megacap firm reporting disappointing, if unsurprising, volume declines.

StatoilHydro's exploration success rate outside of its home turf is running at a dismal 38% this year. The share price today is buoyed by the firm's relatively high leverage to oil versus natural gas, which has increased further with the Norsk Hydro (NYSE: NHY  ) E&P merger, but I will need to see better global exploration results, not to mention cost control, before warming up to this deep-pocketed deepwater dandy again.


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