Royal Dutch Shell plc (RDS.A) surged to the top of the London market Thursday after Europe's biggest oil company posted its best annual profit in four years and said it would buyback $2.5 billion in shares as global crude prices continue to rise from their late December lows.
Shell said so-called 'clean cost' earnings for the three months ending in December, which strip out the movements of oil held in inventory, rose 30% from the same period last year to $5.688 million and topped the company-provided consensus of $5.28 billion. For the whole of 2018, Shell said, profits rose 36% to $21.4 billion, the highest since 2014, as the fourth quarter earnings eased concerns that last year's slump in oil prices, which saw crude fall 41% from early October to Christmas Eve, would hammer energy sector profits. Shell also said it would pay a 47 cent fourth quarter divided.
"Shell delivered a very strong financial performance in 2018, with cash flow from operations of $49.6 billion, excluding working capital movements," said CEO Ben van Beurden. "We delivered on our promises for the year, including the completion of the $30 billion divestment programme and starting up key growth projects while maintaining discipline on capital investment.
"We paid our entire dividend in cash, further reduced our debt and launched our share buyback programme, with $4.5 billion in shares repurchased so far," van Beurden added. "We will continue with a strong delivery focus in 2019, with a disciplined approach to capital investment and growing both our cash flow and returns."
Shell shares were marked 3.4% higher in the opening hour of trading in London Thursday, topping the FTSE 100 leaderboard and changing hands at £23.53 each, a move that trims the stock's three-month decline to around 4.4%.
Global oil prices were back on the march again Thursday, taking U.S. crude nearly 30% higher from its Christmas Eve nadir, after the U.S. Energy Information Administration said domestic stockpiles grew by nearly 1 million barrels last week, and are 6.6% higher from last year, while imports of Saudi crude slowed to the second lowest weekly level since records began in 2010.
Brent crude contracts for March delivery, the global benchmark, were marked 46 cents higher from their Tuesday close in New York and changing hands at $62.11 per barrel while WTI contracts for the same month were seen 32 cents higher at $54.55 per barrel.