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Conoco CFO: No Plans To Further Divide US, International Arms

By Isabel Ordonez Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES HOUSTON -(Dow Jones)- It's unlikely ConocoPhillips (COP) will further split its domestic and international arms into two exploration and production companies as its large oversees exposure is key to its strategy to become a "unique" investment option in the energy sector, the company's Chief Financial Officer said Tuesday. ConocoPhillips--which Tuesday started officially trading as a pure exploration and production company after spinning off its refining arm into a company called Phillips 66 (PSX)--needs to maintain its global scale to take advantage of emerging trends, CFO Jeff Sheets told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview. Opportunities to develop shale gas assets, liquefied-natural-gas and deepwater projects overseas by transferring knowledge acquired in the U.S. and elsewhere will allow Conoco to remain competitive globally, Sheets said. "When you are a company of the size of ConocoPhillips, you can be involved in all these trends," Sheets said. Some analysts have speculated Conoco could divide its North American and international assets to further unlock shareholder value as some the company's international assets are not seen fully valued. Conoco, which before the split was the third-largest U.S. oil company by market value after Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Chevron Corp. (CVX), is now the biggest independent oil and gas company in the U.S. by production and the second largest by market value after Occidental Petroleum. (OXY). ConocoPhillips also believes offering shareholders a dividend significantly higher than its peers is "appropriate" for a company its size and it is confident about its ability to sustain the generous pay out in the long term, Sheets said. "We are going to be creating a fairly unique type of investment in the energy space," he added. ConocoPhillips is expected be cash-flow negative over the next few years, with capital requirements between $12 billion to $15 billion a year for projects and $3.5 billion for dividend. Conoco's current dividend yield of 4.8% is more than double Occidental's, its closest rival. Oppenheimer analyst Fadel Gheit said the large amount of money Conoco needs to cover its dividend and capital projects are a matter of concern for some investors. Separately, the company is on track to deliver production growth next year, as projects in Malaysia and the North Sea are getting close to being brought on line, Sheets said. Conoco is expected to have negative growth production this year as output is hurt by assets sales. "There is a lot of enthusiasm right now," Sheets said. "We are moving closer to the inflexion point we have talked in the past," with production growth expected next year. The company has high expectations for the Gulf of Mexico where it plans to increase exploratory drilling this year, Sheets said. Onshore in the U.S., the company expects to continue buying more shale properties in shale-oil rich areas to consolidate its current position, he added. Conoco's shares recently traded up 3.57% at $56.55. -By Isabel Ordonez, Dow Jones Newswires, Tel 713-314-6090; isabel.ordonez@dowjones.com

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