Higher Oil Prices Didn't Fuel Earnings Growth at Occidental Petroleum Corporation

Occidental Petroleum Corporation (NYSE: OXY  ) announced fourth-quarter earnings before the opening bell this morning. It delivered core net income of $1.4 billion, or $1.72 per share, and beat estimates by $0.04 per share. However, overall net income came in at $1.64 billion, or $2.04 per share, as the company benefited from a onetime gain on the sale of its part of its interest in Plains GP Holding (NYSE: PAGP  ) .

That sale earned Occidental Petroleum $665 million, or $0.83 per share, in the quarter. However, it also wrote down $395 million in the quarter as it was forced to impair some of its domestic oil and gas assets. That charge is still well under the $1.1 billion in natural gas assets it was forced to write down last year.

Asset sales and impairment charges aside, core earnings at Occidental Petroleum were still down year over year. Last year, it delivered core earnings of $1.5 billion, or $1.83 per share, in the fourth quarter. Despite higher oil prices this year, the company's production suffered from severe weather, plant turnarounds, and a reduction in natural gas drilling. Because of this, overall earnings in Occidental Petroleum's oil and gas business was slightly lower than the previous year.

In addition to this, Occidental's chemical segment's earnings dropped from $180 million in last year's fourth quarter to $128 million in this year's fourth quarter. Higher energy and ethylene costs when combined with lower caustic soda prices contributed to the lower earnings.

Despite the lack of earnings growth, Occidental Petroleum had a solid year, as it produced $12.9 billion in cash flow from operations. It used most of that cash to fund growth projects, while also reducing its debt by 9% and rewarding investors with a buyback. That has the company set up to deliver core earnings growth in 2014 and beyond. 

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