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TOBY STERLING, AP Business Writer

AMSTERDAM (AP) — Royal Dutch Shell PLC has issued a profit warning for the fourth quarter, saying results will be worse than most analysts expected due to a mix of lower production, higher costs, and a worse performance by its refining division.

The company on Friday gave provisional, unaudited figures of net profit of $1.8 billion (1.32 billion euros) for the quarter, down from $6.7 billion in the same period a year ago.

Shares, which have underperformed most other major oil companies in the past year, fell an additional 3.5 percent in early Amsterdam trading to 25.435 euros.

Chief executive Ben van Beurden said in a statement the results were "not what I expect from Shell."

Dutchman Van Beurden took over the top job from Peter Voser, who is retiring, just two weeks ago.

The company is not due to release full fourth quarter results until Jan. 30, but added that its earnings, stripping out one-time charges and measured on a "current cost of supplies" basis, which strips out fluctuations in the price of oil, would have been $2.9 billion, versus $5.6 billion in the same period a year ago.

Then, Shell booked a net $1.7 billion in asset sales, versus charges of $700 million this time.

But the company is facing operating difficulties as well.

In its statement, Shell offered a laundry list of problems at its production arm — which usually accounts for the bulk of its earnings.

The company said that it had a "high level of maintenance activity" in the quarter, disproportionately at its most profitable operations, including where it sells gas it has transformed to liquid form.

The company has also suffered frequent shutdowns in Niger's restive river delta due to attacks — or vandalism — on its pipelines.

In December the company said it had made a difficult choice to cancel a $20 billion project to build a facility in Louisiana to convert cheap natural gas to liquid (diesel). At the time, Voser described that as tough decision made only because the company had even more attractive opportunities elsewhere.

He used the same argument in July when he booked a $2.1 billion impairment on the value of the company's U.S. shale assets and began disposing shale holdings in Colorado, Texas and Kansas.

Shell's attempts to explore for oil offshore in Alaska in the Arctic circle have also so foundered. That's not so much due to protests from environmental groups, who vigorously oppose the idea, but because of problems with a safety system Shell was required to have in place before commencing drilling.

In all, its American production activities operated at a loss.

Shell said Friday earnings were also hurt by the weaker Australian dollar.

 

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