Woodside always ‘running ruler’ over deals after profit beats forecast


By Lewis Jackson and Sameer Manekar

(Reuters) -Australia’s top oil and gas explorer Woodside Energy posted a 37% drop in annual underlying profit on Tuesday, as subdued oil and gas prices offset higher sales and production.

Less than three weeks since Woodside ended merger talks with smaller local player Santos amid major differences on price, CEO Meg O’Neill said the company continued to assess potential deal targets.

Investors have been watching closely for signs of future deal-making and O’Neill fielded repeated questions about acquisition plans from analysts on a full-year results call on Tuesday.

“We’re always looking for ways to add value to our shareholders,” she said in a later interview with Reuters. “We’re pretty regularly running the ruler over ideas but we’re very pleased with the portfolio we have today.”

“Running the ruler over ideas and bringing a deal to fruition are two quite different things,” she said.

O’Neill singled out the North American offshore sector as a particular area of interest as well as liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects.

Asked about a recent Bloomberg interview in Saudi Arabia which raised the possibility of deals in the Middle East, O’Neill said her main reason for travelling to the country was a conference.

Woodside reported underlying net profit after tax (NPAT) of $3.32 billion for 2023, down 37% from $5.23 billion in 2022. However, that beat an LSEG estimate of $3.03 billion.

Oil and natural gas prices softened in 2023, as slowing global growth and China’s slowdown weighed on demand, but Woodside’s profits beat market forecasts thanks to lower costs.

Shares of the company rose 0.9% to A$30.28 at 12:45 p.m.(0145 GMT), while the benchmark index was down 0.15%.

Last week, the company announced the sale of a 15.1% non-operating stake in its Scarborough gas project to Japan’s JERA for about $1.4 billion – its second stake sale to a Japanese LNG buyer in six months.

O’Neill said she was happy with Woodside’s current 74.9% equity stake in the project and there were no plans for further sales.

Woodside maintained its target to export a first LNG cargo in 2026 for the project off the Western Australian coast.

Woodside received $68.6 per barrel of oil equivalent (boe), compared with $98.4 per boe a year earlier, while annual sales volume rose 19% to 201.5 million barrels of oil equivalent (mmboe).

Woodside maintained its fiscal 2024 production guidance of between 185 and 195 mmboe and reaffirmed its capital expenditure forecast of between $5.0 billion and $5.5 billion.

(Reporting by Sameer Manekar and Rishav Chatterjee in Bengaluru and Lewis Jackson in Sydney; Editing by Maju Samuel, Subhranshu Sahu and Jacqueline Wong)

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