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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Shell seeks to reassure investors
Shell petrol station
Shell is trying to rebuild investor confidence
Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell has unveiled plans to reshape the company in an effort to restore investors' faith in its strategy.

Shell chairman Jeroen van der Veer committed the firm to invest $45bn (25bn; 36bn euros) by the end of 2006.

And he promised to sell non-strategic assets worth up to $12bn in the same period.

It was Shell's first major briefing on its future strategy since cutting its reserves by 20% in January.

That move stunned investors, triggering investigations by regulators that culminated in Shell agreeing to pay penalties totalling 80m ($143.7m) to US and UK watchdogs in July.

Rebuilding reserves

In his briefing, Mr van der Veer concentrated on how Shell would rebuild its all-important reserves of oil and reshape the company to improve profitability.

"We are focused on improving our competitive position, strong cash generation and total shareholder returns," he said.

It's back to basics for Shell. It will have to get its exploration strategy, which has been wrong for many, many years, right
Bruce Evers, Investec

Replacing reserves was "a priority to support future growth", he added.

To this end, Shell's exploration teams will concentrate on so-called "big cat" wells where the firm hopes to pump out more than 100 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe). New investment will target areas with potential for growth and rising prices.

Investment will be used to unlock reserves so that an extra 13 billion boe becomes pumpable by end-2009, Shell's chairman said, reiterating that the firm hopes to be able to reverse 50% of the cut in its proven reserves, the industry's term for oil with a realistic, short-term prospect of flowing out of the ground.

Shell has set an average replacement ratio till 2008 of "at least 100%" for its proven reserves.

Talks on a gas deal with the Libyan government are "going well", Shell Managing Director Malcolm Brinded said.

Shell plans to dispose of non-strategic assets in the group's downstream business and to integrate its Oil Products and Chemicals business under one global management team.

It is considering selling off its Liquid Petroleum Gas marketing business, and is in "very preliminary" talks with a potential buyer.

A steep climb

However, initial reaction to the strategy appeared to be unfavourable, with Shell's shares falling 2% in London to 423.5 pence soon after the chairman's statement.

Analysts had earlier said that Shell faces a tough road to restore its reputation with investors, even though its share price hit a year-high on Tuesday as investors revelled in high oil prices.

Shell Stanlow refinery
Shell is attempting to win back investor confidence

The briefing was "a chance for them to put a horrible year behind them and show that they can grow the business from here on in", John Walsh, corporate energy reporter at Petroleum Argus told BBC Radio.

Shell's bosses need to convince investors that the firm can "bridge the gap" between itself and other oil majors such as Total and ExxonMobil, he said.

"It will be back to basics for Shell," said Bruce Evers of Investec. "It will have to get its exploration strategy, which has been wrong for many, many years, right," he said.

Shell has already flagged up expectations of weak growth this year and during the next two years so the focus will be on its plans from 2007 onwards, he added.

Three of Shell's top executives lost their jobs in the outcry that followed Shell's decision to slash its estimated oil reserves in January, including chairman Philip Watts.

The scandal also prompted calls for reforms to Shell's dual board structure, with boards in the UK and the Netherlands.

The BBC's Nigel Cassidy
"Shell chose not to commit itself to buying back its shares"

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