Big Oil is about done with this earnings season, and for the most part, the results were extremely positive. If you look at both the big oilfield services companies and the major producers -- beginning with Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP), respectively, only Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A) (NYSE: RDS-B), which brought things to a conclusion last week, fell short of expectations.

For the quarter, the big European company earned $4.1 billion on a current cost of supplies (CCS) basis and excluding items. That result compares to $2.8 billion for the fourth quarter a year ago, a sizable year-over-year jump, but unfortunately 13% of the $4.7 billion consensus among the analysts who follow the company. The shortfall was largely attributable to an unspectacular quarter in the company's downstream business. Shell earned $0.93 on a per-share basis, or nearly stratospheric compared with the $0.19 figure a year ago.

Upstream, the company earned just under $5.1 billion, compared with $2.5 billion in the comparable quarter a year ago. The most recent quarter included a $1.66 billion gain on a divestment, while the 2009 quarter included a net charge of $226 million. Nevertheless, the company achieved an impressive 5% gain in oil and gas production.

During the quarter, Shell sold 29.2% of its interest in Australia's Woodside Petroleum for $3.2 billion. At the same time, the company signed a protocol of strategic global cooperation with Russia's Gazprom, thereby setting the guidelines for the companies' cooperation both upstream and downstream. In addition to selling a group of South Texas tight gas fields for $1.8 billion, it agreed to sell six mature fields in the Gulf of Mexico for $450 million. It also participated in two exploratory discoveries in Brazil, along with one in Brunei.

Downstream, the company earned $1.5 billion on a CCS basis, a healthy jump from its loss of $952 million in the final quarter of 2009. As was the case with its peers BP (NYSE: BP) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX), Shell trimmed its refining and marketing business in Finland and Sweden, along with jettisoning its downstream businesses in Gibraltar, Panama, Costa Rica, and Laos.

Despite the disappointment in some quarters regarding the company's downstream performance, CEO Peter Voser expressed optimism regarding the company's progress. As he noted, "Shell's industry-leading investment programme is laying down firm foundation for our shareholders and our customers in the future. In 2010 we started up six key projects in Upstream and Downstream."

For my money, Shell's overall performance during the most recent quarter was essentially sound. While ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) remains my favorite among the majors, Shell, it seems, is continuing to generate solid improvements.  

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