February 8, 2018 / 8:00 AM / 14 days ago

France's Total lifts shareholder rewards as profit jumps

PARIS (Reuters) - Higher production drove a 28 percent rise in net profit at Total last year, allowing the French oil and gas group to hike dividends and announce plans to buy back shares.

Adjusted net profit came in at $10.6 billion, helped by a five percent rise in production.

The company said on Thursday it would increase dividends by 10 percent over the next three years, with the 2018 interim dividend rising 3.2 percent. It also said it planned to buy back up to $5 billion of stock over 2018-2020.

Total shares were up 1.7 percent in early trading, outperforming a 0.6 percent decline in the STOXX Europe 600 Oil & Gas index.

Fourth-quarter net profit rose 19 percent to $2.9 billion, compared with analysts’ average forecast of $2.8 billion. Oil output, however, came in slightly below analysts’ mean estimate.

“The numbers were good. In Total’s case, they’ve got enough cash to increase capex and do a share buyback, so it all looks reasonably positive,” said Clairinvest fund manager Ion-Marc Valahu, who owns Total shares.

Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne said Total planned some $2 billion of acquisitions in 2018, and the company would return to normal staff hiring patterns after a three-year freeze.

Rival BP said earlier this week its 2017 profit more than doubled to $6.2 billion on the back of higher oil prices and output, allowing the British firm to resume share buybacks, as it too recovers from a three-year oil downturn.

However, U.S. groups Exxon Mobil and Chevron posted rare quarterly earnings misses this month, hit by weakness in international refining operations.

Total’s market value of around 115 billion euros puts it roughly on a par with BP, but below Exxon, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell, according to Thomson Reuters data.

($1 = 0.8171 euros)

Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Mark Potter

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