Total’s $13 Billion Asset Sales Could Boost Dividend, CFO Says

Total SA, Europe’s third-biggest oil company, said the $13 billion of asset sales it’s carried out to date as part of a divestment plan could translate into higher dividends.

“The asset sale program is going better than expected and this will give us additional flexibility to increase the return to shareholders and fund an intensive capex phase,” Chief Financial Officer Patrick de la Chevardiere said today on a conference call after the company reported earnings.

Total has pledged to sell $15 billion to $20 billion of assets from 2012 to 2014 to raise cash for exploration and production. The French company is following BP Plc and others in stepping up sales to bolster its balance sheet while shifting investment focus.

“Proceeds from asset sales could leave room to increase the dividend,” de la Chevardiere said. Total still has to close the sale of the Usan field in Nigeria and the southwestern French gas network TIGF.

Total studied a possible bid for a stake in a Mozambique gas field and decided not to make an offer, the CFO said.

“We see no interest in bidding for these assets,” he said, citing the risks of cost overruns and project delays.

“As you know Total is not very active on the acquisition front these days,” he said. “Some time ago we looked at it as we do most assets for sale in the oil and gas industry. Without contesting the quality of the resource base we consider there is too much risk of delay and cost overrun.”

The Rovuma-1 offshore block is being sold by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Videocon Industries Ltd. Fields off Mozambique’s Indian Ocean coast are estimated to hold enough gas to meet global demand for two years, attracting investment from energy companies in Asia, Europe and North America.