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Slimmed-Down Conoco Is Becoming Attractive

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The second member of Big Oil, ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) , told us about its active quarter on Wednesday -- as did Italy's Eni (NYSE: E  ) . With higher crude prices and a better downstream atmosphere putting the wind at their backs, Eni turned in a solid performance, but it was Conoco that really knocked it out of the park.

Conoco earned $4.16 billion, or $2.77 per share. Those numbers compared with $859 million, or $0.57 a share, in the same quarter a year ago. Even when you subtract a $1.7 billion gain, adjusted earnings came in more than 150% higher.

Conoco is rapidly trimming assets, including its stake in Lukoil, the big Russian oil company. Indeed, it has already agreed to sell a 7.6% stake to Lukoil for $3.44 billion. Conoco plans to sell the remaining 60% of its position, 163.3 Lukoil depository receipts, in the open market by the end of 2011.

Beyond that, Conoco has raised about $5.8 billion from sales, including its stake in the big Syncrude oil sands venture in Canada, which went to China's Sinopec Group (NYSE: SNP  ) . Management anticipates sales of up to $8 billion year end, excluding the Lukoil proceeds. Its objective is to sell $10 billion in assets during the next two years.

The company's upstream production for the second quarter was 1.73 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, compared with 1.87 BOE in the 2009 quarter. Much of the reduction is related to "normal field decline" and planned maintenance. Successful exploratory plays included a play in offshore Australia and the Eagle Ford shale play in South Texas.

At the same time, the downstream sector benefited from improving spreads, generally of more than 15%. International refining capacity utilization, however, dipped to 54%, compared with 72% last year, largely on cuts at Germany's Wilhelmshaven refinery, which cost the company a $1.1 billion impairment charge.

Conoco has been less affected by the Gulf oil spill than most of its peers. But with its potential there, CEO Jim Mulva was tossed an inevitable question about how he believes the Gulf's chaos will play out. His response:

Well, we really feel that we need to get this industry back to work. The industry is ready to work. We have to do this because if we don't, drilling rigs and people start to leave the Gulf. When they leave the Gulf, they don't come back a month or two later; they leave permanently.

ConocoPhillips is being followed closely in releasing by ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) , Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A  ) on Thursday, and then Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) on Friday. While I continue to believe that Exxon is the leader of the pack, I must admit to becoming intrigued by a Conoco on Slim Fast.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. He welcomes your comments or criticisms. Chevron is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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