While low oil prices did adversely impact Royal Dutch Shell plc's (NYSE:RDS-A) (NYSE:RDS-B) first quarter results, the European oil giant's integrated model helped stem much of the rot. Last month, the Netherlands-headquartered company reported adjusted earnings of $3.2 billion on $65.7 billion revenue -- a 56% and 40% drop, respectively, year on year. In the quarterly earnings call, management discussed how it plans to negotiate lower commodity prices by increasing capital efficiency, create value through Shell's acquisition of the BG Group, safeguard dividend growth, and increase its focus on LNG production and deepwater exploration.
Here are five things management said that investors of Royal Dutch Shell plc should find particularly insightful.
The integrated model proves to be the savior
The results reflect the strength of our integrated business against the backdrop of lower prices. Meanwhile in what is clearly a difficult industry environment, we continue to take steps to further improve the competitive performance, redoubling efforts to drive the sharper focus on the bottom line.
Shell's refining and marketing operations proved to be a reliable earnings stream while its upstream division struggled. Of the $3.2 billion adjusted earnings, the downstream segment contributed a whopping 82%, or $2.6 billion, making this the best quarterly performance since Q1 2010 even in absolute terms. In a low crude-oil price environment, this is a huge plus.
Capital efficiency is management's primary focus for the rest of the year
We're continuing to curtail our capital investment, [with] guidance today around $33 billion or less in 2015 and that is a reduction from what we announced three months ago of around $35 billion.
Management is putting conscious efforts to reduce spending. In 2014, Royal Dutch Shell made a total capital investment of $37.3 billion. The move should lend support to the company's return on capital employed, or ROCE. Upstream capital investment for the first quarter fell 38% to $5.9 billion from the year ago quarter's $9.7 billion. In addition, management has further divested $2.2 billion worth assets despite headwinds in a low commodity price environment.
Dividends remain steady, but share buybacks to halt temporarily
Our dividend distributed for the first quarter of 2015 is the same as year ago levels at nearly $3 billion or $0.47 per share. And we repurchased around $400 million of shares earlier in the first quarter. We have more recently, of course, halted that share buyback program to conserve cash in the lower oil price environment.
The point is self-explanatory and encouraging news for investors. While share buybacks could remain dormant for the rest of the year, management repeatedly mentioned that returning cash through dividends remain a top priority.
The following chart suggests that Shell has steadily raised dividends over the last 10 years. Management also mentioned that recent asset sales as well as the overall reduction in capital investments "should enhance our future dividend potential and of course the potential for share buybacks."
The BG acquisition should help increase overall asset quality and capital efficiency
[With the BG acquisition] our exposure to high decline and high cost of maintaining production assets is likely to decline overall and give us a portfolio not only with a longer life ahead of it but one with lower capital maintenance requirements. But that is difficult to say any more than that without getting quite granular.
The proposed $70 billion acquisition of U.K.-based natural gas company BG Group, announced in April, clearly indicates that Shell is focusing on expanding its liquefied natural gas, or LNG, production capability. The merger would propel Shell far ahead of its rivals ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) in the global LNG race. BG has already obtained the rights to export American LNG through its tie-up with Cheniere Energy (NYSEMKT:LNG) from its Sabine Pass terminal. Shell will definitely have some outstanding assets on its books postmerger. However, it remains to be seen how much quantifiable the claimed advantages would be.
Management is keen on organic growth from existing assets, but also on the lookout for accretive growth
The headline oil and gas production for the first quarter was 3.2 million barrels oil equivalent per day, excluding 190,000 barrels oil equivalent per today reduction from the asset sales and license expires. While the overall volumes decreased, the underlying volumes increased by around 1%.
Excluding production volumes from assets that were divested, Shell could increase production organically from existing assets. The company is currently ramping up production in its deep water fields of Nigeria, Malaysia, and the Gulf of Mexico. Management also feels that Shell is somewhat underexposed to oilfields in Brazil and is on the lookout for more opportunities here.
Foolish bottom line
Shell's integrated model came to its rescue in the first quarter and will continue to shield the company until oil prices recover. In the meantime, the oil giant is capitalizing on other producers' financial weaknesses and is building a highly competitive position in the global LNG market. Shell expects BG Group's acquisition to be accretive to its earnings in a short span of time, pending regulatory approvals.