The big boys of the oil world continue to do their happy little dance. With energy prices as high as they are, profits are growing and the cash is flowing. Following in the wake of ExxonMobil
Revenue climbed 14% for the quarter as higher energy prices and refinery margins offset lower energy production and refinery throughput. Production of oil (and oil equivalents) was down nearly 4% in the quarter and also down about 2.5% sequentially.
Profitability continued to improve, though, and the company posted a 37% rise in adjusted operating income. Looking at adjusted net earnings (adjusted for various gains and charges), Total saw about 33% growth in the quarter, but just missed the mean analyst estimate.
Oil production is a big part of the Total story, and there were several important developments on this front. First, the company has managed to start projects in Qatar, Nigeria, and the Congo that should add incremental energy production. That's good. The company also launched a friendly takeover of Canada's Deer Creek Energy, holder of an oil sands lease that could produce up to 2 billion barrels of recoverable oil.
On the flip side, the company has abandoned its attempt to buy a stake in Russia's Novatek. While a 25% piece of Russia's leading gas company was appealing, ongoing delays and hassles finally led Total to abandon the attempt. That's bad, but maybe not as bad as some might think. I don't want to sound like I'm Russia-bashing, but dealing with Russian companies is sometimes a bit like dealing with a manic-depressive schizophrenic -- you just never know what to expect from one moment to the next.
With all this good news-bad news, I think it'll be tough for Total to hit its stated target of 3% to 4% production growth. Tough, but not impossible -- and also not without some risks. The crude produced from oil sands is not only very heavy, but it is expensive to produce and only economically competitive when oil prices are high. What's more, Total is counting on some regions of the world (Libya, Venezuela, Nigeria, the Congo) that don't have an exactly stellar history of stability or rule of law.
Risks aside, I still believe Total is worth consideration as an energy investment. I still happen to prefer (and own) PetroChina
For more takes on Texas tea:
- Should PetroKazakhstan Be Pumped?
- Oh My, OMI
- Suncor Stuck on Tar Sands
- Ultra Petroleum's Gas-Fueled Growth
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