Royal Dutch Shell boosts profits by a third

Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell put beleaguered rival BP in the shade today with a 34% hike in second-quarter profits to 4.2 billion US dollars (£2.7 billion).

The forecast-beating performance in an "uncertain" economic climate came as Shell unveiled a 5% increase in production and faster than expected progress on its 3.5 billion dollar (£2.2 billion) cost-saving plans, which will see 7,000 jobs go.

Earlier this week BP revealed a £20.9 billion hit from the Gulf of Mexico spill which sent it crashing into the red for the first time in 18 years.

Shell chief executive Peter Voser said the spill was a "tragedy for everyone affected".

Shell's results underline the sudden switch in momentum between the firm and its rival, triggered by the Gulf catastrophe.

Under chief executive Tony Hayward - who resigned this week - BP had closed the gap on Shell after years of under-performance, before the Deepwater Horizon crisis erupted in April.

Shell lagged behind BP in its response to the economic downturn, but Mr Voser today said the group is "on track for growth" after adding to its gas interests in the US.

The firm also began production from its Gbaran-Ubie oil and gas project in Nigeria - which will produce 70,000 barrels of oil a day when fully operational - and signed a gas exploration agreement in Qatar during the quarter.

Shell also expects to sell up to 8 billion dollars (£5.1 billion) in assets this year as it refocuses its portfolio on projects with higher growth potential.

Profits were helped by higher refining margins than a year earlier, as well as higher oil and gas prices than in 2009, when much of the global economy was still in recession.

Upstream exploration and production profits were up 56% to 3.2 billion dollars (£2 billion), while refining earnings were in the black against a year earlier with profits of 1.47 billion dollars (£941 million).

Mr Voser said the firm continued to see "mixed signals" in the global economy but was "pleased" with the results.

He added: "We are putting the priority on a sharper delivery of our strategy, aiming for profitable growth and a more competitive performance."

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