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ConocoPhillips of the US, the world’s largest oil and gas group with only exploration and production operations, reported a smaller loss than expected for the fourth quarter of 2016, and highlighted its potential to make profitable investments in its business at low oil prices, but projected only slow growth in production this year.

The underlying loss per share for the quarter, excluding some one-off items, was 26 cents, compared to a loss of 90 cents for the equivalent period of 2015. Analysts had on average forecast a loss of 40 cents.

The results contrast with the fourth quarter reports from ExxonMobil and Chevron, the two largest US oil and gas groups, which both released disappointing earnings for the fourth quarter of last year.

Conoco’s shares fell more than 60 per cent in the oil price crash, to a low point in February last year after it cut its dividend, but have risen 24 per cent over the past 12 months as crude has recovered.

Ryan Lance, chief executive, said the company’s recent performance “highlights the significant changes we’ve made as a company to respond to a world of lower and more volatile commodity prices.”

He added:

For the second quarter in a row our cash from operating activities exceeded capital expenditures and dividends paid. Our capital intensity and cost structure are dramatically lower, we’ve increased our dividend, and our debt reduction and share buyback programs are underway. We are delivering our operational milestones and our 18 BBOE of resources with an average cost of supply less than $40 per barrel Brent represents a deep source of high-return future investments.

Conoco cut capital spending by more than 50 per cent to $4.9bn last year, and cut production and operating expenses by 19 per cent.

Production for 2016, excluding the Libyan operations that have been hit by disruption in that country, dropped slightly to 1.57m barrels of oil equivalent per day, down from 1.59m b/d in 2015.

For 2017, the company expects capital spending to be roughly unchanged at $5bn, it said.

It also projected average production outside Libya of 1.54m-1.57m b/d this year, representing growth of 0-2 per cent allowing for the effect of asset sales.

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