Total is the latest oil major to slash forecasts

Leuna refinery
An employee of the 'Total' oil refinery stands in front of a large tank with the company's logo in Leuna, Germany, 12 March 2014. A general inspection under the project title 'Matrix' is being conducted as part of the regular six week inspection cycle, during which the facilities will be inspected and, if necessary, repaired or complemented. The most modern oil refinery in Europe belongs to French oil and gas company Total and processes about 30,000 tons of crude oil daily, which hails mainly from Russia. Photo by: Waltraud Grubitzsch/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
Photograph by Waltraud Grubitzsch – AP

French oil major Total SA (TOT) has cut its capital and operating expenses yet again in response to low oil prices and trimmed its ambitious output growth targets but reassured the market that its dividend was safe.

The cost-cutting deepens previous steps taken by Total to withstand the oil price rout and is similar to measures taken by rival majors. So far only Italian firm Eni SpA (E) has cut its dividend among oil majors, most of whom see the payout to shareholders as the chief factor supporting share prices.

“We wanted to dramatically reduce capex again next year so that we can reach the very important target of covering the dividend at $60 per barrel in 2017. This is the cornerstone of everything we are doing,” Total’s Chief Financial Officer Patrick de la Chevardiere told reporters on Wednesday.

Benchmark Brent oil futures were flat at $49 per barrel on Wednesday. Total’s stock was broadly unchanged.

Total said in a presentation to investors and media in London that it would reduce capex to $20-21 billion from 2016 and to $17-19 billion per year from 2017 onwards compared with $23-24 billion in 2015 and a peak of $28 billion in 2013.

It also raised the target of operating expenses reductions to $3 billion by 2017, from the previous target of $2 billion.

It said its production would grow by 6%-7% a year between 2014-2017 and by an average of 5% a year between 2014-2019, effectively reducing its 2017 production target to 2.6 million barrels a day from the previous 2.8 million b/d.

“We lose about 200,000 b/d in comparison to the initial target. About 100,000 b/d come from projects which are facing some delay. An additional 100,000 b/d is due to the lower capex program,” de la Chevardiere told reporters.

He also said the company has slightly adjusted redistribution of capital expenses with refining or downstream now getting a slightly bigger proportion — 25% of total capex versus 20% previously.

Production, or upstream, will get a slightly smaller proportion, 75% percent of capex versus 80% previously.

Oil majors’ refining business has outperformed in the past few quarters as low oil prices increased profitability. By contrast, upstream has underperformed.

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