By Sabrina Valle and Sourasis Bose
HOUSTON (Reuters) -U.S. oil and gas producer ConocoPhillips on Thursday beat Wall Street estimates for fourth-quarter profit, helped by higher production in the U.S. Permian Basin and a recent acquisition.
U.S. oil firms are reporting higher-than-expected oil production in the country’s main shale basin, with Chevron Corp surprising analysts last week and Exxon Mobil also expanding its U.S. production.
The companies are benefiting from efficiency gains and lower inflation in services and equipment.
Conoco’s pumping hours rose by more than 10% last year as the company remotely monitored wells, moved drilling teams more quickly among locations and used electric fracking, officials said.
“We still see some growth coming from the U.S. shale,” Chief Executive Officer Ryan Lance said on an earnings call with analysts, even if “more modest relative to last year’s growth”.
Conoco disclosed plans to increase its global production this year by about 6%, balanced between U.S. and international, targeting about 1.93 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil and gas.
Last year, the Houston-based company bought an additional 50% stake in the Surmont facility in Canada from TotalEnergies that increased its 2023 output to 1.82 million bpd. Lance did not rule out new acquisitions.
Shares rose about 1% to $113.52 in midday trading.
Conoco last year gave the green light to its Willow oil development project in Alaska, bolstering its long-term growth prospects along with LNG ventures with QatarEnergy and Sempra.
Fourth-quarter production rose 8.2% to 1.9 million bpd, at the top end of its previous forecast. The boost was helped by an increase in Permian shale output, to 750,000 bpd. Another 211,000 bpd came from the Eagle Ford shale and 100,000 bpd from the Bakken basin.
Higher volumes offset lower prices, which tumbled 18% to an average $58.21 per barrel of oil equivalent in the quarter.
The company forecast 2024 total capital expenditure in the range of $11.0 billion to $11.5 billion, in line with last year’s spending.
It expects to return a minimum of $9 billion to shareholders in 2024, compared with $11 billion last year.
Conoco posted adjusted fourth-quarter earnings of $2.40 per share, topping analysts’ average estimate by 31 cents, according to LSEG data.
(Reporting by Sabrina Valle in Houston and Sourasis Bose in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman)