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Shell annual profits hit $30.9 bn on high oil prices

Energy giant Royal Dutch Shell said Thursday that 2011 net profit jumped 54 percent to $30.92 billion (23.6 billion euros) on higher oil prices, but also revealed a drop in fourth-quarter earnings.

The profit after tax figure compared with net income of $20.47 billion during 2010, Shell said in a results statement. The group was boosted as Brent oil prices averaged $110.91 per barrel last year.

However, the Anglo-Dutch firm also revealed that net profits slipped four percent to $6.5 billion in the fourth quarter, or three months to the end of December, compared with same part of 2010.

Europe's largest oil company faltered due to a squeeze on refining margins and lower American natural gas prices, and it cautioned over the "volatile" outlook for the global economy -- and the energy market.

Total oil and gas output eased five percent to 3.3 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, hit by the temporary shutdown of one of its biggest fields in Nigeria.

Shell is meanwhile set to invest $30 billion into new investment projects to boost the company's growth, and added that its 2012 outlook was boosted by more than 60 new projects and options.

"I am pleased with our delivery in 2011, focusing on improving our operating performance and ramping up our growth projects," said chief executive Peter Voser in the earnings release.

"We have made good progress with portfolio development during 2011, with new opportunities in global gas, liquids-rich shales and exploration, alongside some $7.5 billion of divestments as part of Shell's drive for on-going capital efficiency and portfolio improvement."

He added: "Our fourth-quarter results were impacted by a sharp downturn in industry refining margins and North American natural gas prices.

"The global economy and energy markets are likely to see continued high volatility. Despite the near-term uncertainties, Shell's focus remains on through-cycle investment for sustainable growth."

In recent years, Shell has outshone troubled rival BP -- which has been ravaged by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster -- and underlined its confidence Thursday by promising dividend growth for the first time since 2009.

Shell said it would raise its dividend by two percent for the first time in three years from next quarter. However, this was lower than the 4.0-percent hike that most analysts had expected.

Voser added that the planned return to dividend growth in 2012 showed the company's confidence that "there is more to come from Shell".

However, investors baulked at falling fourth-quarter profits in midday trading on the London stock market.

Shell's 'B' share price fell by 2.35 percent to 2,271.3 pence on the British capital's benchmark FTSE 100 index, which was 0.19 percent lower at 5,779.56 points.

"The initial disappointment of this update does not detract from the longer term view, where Shell's drive for progressive business and dividend growth remains strongly on track," said Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers.
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