Shell’s upstream unit, which largely handles the exploration and production of crude, was able to capture “the upside from the current commodity price environment“ in the first quarter, the company said on Wednesday.
While earnings from natural gas, refining and chemicals helped Shell to post an overall profit last year, its core business reported consistent losses after energy prices plunged due to Covid-19. The return to profit upstream is another signal that the industry is recovering from the historic slump.
The turn of fortune isn’t limited to Shell. European peer BP Plc on Tuesday said that it had achieved its $35 billion net-debt target a year earlier than expected, a threshold at which it can restart share buybacks.
Shell's B shares rose 1.5% to 1,375.4 pence as of 8:40 a.m. in London.
While the industry is recovering, it still has some way to go before it has fully healed.
Despite Chief Executive Ben van Beurden saying Shell was on the “right side” of moves in the market for liquefied natural gas in January -- when prices rose to record highs -- first-quarter trading and optimization results in its integrated gas unit will be “significantly below average.”
The company’s guidance on cash flow was disappointing, said RBC analyst Biraj Borkhataria.
Shell said working capital will increase as a result of higher commodity prices, which will affect cash flow in its integrated gas, upstream and chemical units. In the fourth quarter, the Anglo-Dutch major was unable to cover spending and its dividend from free cash flow, even as oil prices continued their recovery from historic lows.
“Operationally, the business appears to be performing below expectations,” Borkhataria said. This is a probably a short-term issue and “we do not think it materially alters the investment case into 2021.“
Performance at the division that refines and markets fuels, which was profitable for most of 2020, improved slightly compared to the fourth quarter, Shell said. Oil trading results will be average.
The severe winter storms in Texas, which crippled the state’s infrastructure and shut down a swath of oil and gas fields, will have an adverse impact on adjusted earnings of about $200 million, Shell said.
Shell will report its first quarter results on April 29.