A Solid ConocoPhillips Lead-Off for Big Oil

It's as though they planned it: As the big oilfield services companies -- Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB  ) , Halliburton (NYSE: HAL  ) , etc. -- wrapped up their reporting for the current earnings season, ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) stepped up as the first member of Big Oil to represent its portion of the energy industry.

The third-largest of the U.S.-based oil and gas producers, behind ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) , Conoco chalked up a solid quarter, all things considered. The Houston-based company reported a profit of $2.04 billion, or $1.39 per share, compared with $1.29 billion, or $0.86 per share, for the comparable quarter of 2009. Its revenue increased by 22% to $53.2 billion. Those results compare to analysts' expectations of $1.32 in per-share earnings on $46.2 billion in revenues.

In looking at Conoco, it's important to keep in mind that the company is about halfway through a two-year restructuring that ultimately will involve the sale of about $10 billion of its generally non-core assets, along with the jettisoning of its 20% stake in Russia's OAO Lukoil. As the quarter concluded, the company had disposed of all but 2% of its Lukoil holdings, with the remainder likely to be gone by the end of the current quarter.

In the fourth quarter of 2010, the company's exploration and production efforts yielded 1.73 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (BOE), down from 1.83 million BOE in the final quarter of 2009. The reduction was attributable to normal field declines -- primarily in North America and Europe -- along with asset dispositions. Nevertheless, the initial output from Qatargas 3 project, along with production from China, North America, and Australia, largely offset the declines, as did a 12% per-barrel increase in U.S. crude prices.

The company is maintaining its active exploration and production efforts in the Eagle Ford, Bakken, and North Barnett shale plays in the U.S. Internationally, Conoco continues to evaluate the potential of its Rak More well in Kazakhstan. Further, it appears that the company's reserve additions for the year will represent about 138% of 2010 production.

ConocoPhillips' refining and marketing program benefited from crack spreads that were higher than a year ago. Also, capacity utilization at its refineries reached 83%, despite a $200 million turnaround (preventative maintenance) program that involved five U.S. refineries. And with nearly $500 million in earnings, the company's chemicals segment recorded its best year since the formation of the Chevron Phillips Chemical joint venture.

So unquestionably, ConocoPhillips continues to make progress in its restructuring and ongoing business efforts. Given my expectation that crude prices are likely to increase during 2011 -- especially in the face of growing world demand -- I suggest that Fools monitor the company's efforts closely, along with those of ExxonMobil, Chevron, and even BP (NYSE: BP  ) . They're all ready to share their results in the next few days.

The Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't have financial interests in any of the companies named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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