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Shell ups profits targets in drive to lead sector

Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, has moved to accelerate the pace of its internal transformation by raising the profit targets for its main businesses.

According to leading oil analysts the company has launched an ambitious drive to become the industry's top performer, following growing criticism at its failure spend some of its pounds 8bn cash pile. Senior executives elaborated on the strategy during briefings with analysts in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore last week, in the latest sign of Shell's increasing openness.

The company said it was determined to raise the rate of return on its capital from 12 per cent to at least 15 per cent in each of its individual operating divisions. Last year Shell struggled to reach the 12 per cent target, compared with BP's returns of around 19 per cent.

Fergus MacLeod, oil analyst with NatWest Securities, said: "Everyone from country chairman to refinery managers proved beyond reasonable doubt that there is a company wide drive to improve returns to at least 15 per cent."

He said the drive could boost Shell's profits by $1bn a year. "Major cultural change is under way ... and almost all expressed confidence that better financial performance will result."

Details of the briefings emerged a day after Shell announced a restructuring of its European petrol business, cutting 3,000 jobs and warning it could leave some markets altogether if profits did not improve. The company has also announced two big deals in the space of a month, to buy out its joint venture partner in a European chemicals business and to take over a Texas oil pipeline.

A Shell spokesman said the company had yet to raise the overall profit target for the whole group, though individual businesses were being set a 15 per cent target.