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From WSJ:

HOUSTON—ConocoPhillips on Wednesday said it would shed $10 billion in assets over the next two years, cut expenditures and raise dividends in a bid to shore up its finances and restore confidence among investors.

The move represents a major turnabout for an oil-and-gas company that embarked on gigantic acquisitions and racked up debt during boom times, which came to an abrupt end as the global recession ensued. ConocoPhillips, the third-largest U.S. energy company by market value after Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp., has fared worse than its peers following last year's collapse of petroleum and natural-gas prices.

ConocoPhillips increased its exposure to both natural gas and refining on the assumption that prices for raw hydrocarbons and useful products such as gasoline and diesel would remain relatively high. When it became apparent that its early estimates were overly optimistic, ConocoPhillips earlier this year cut thousands of jobs and slashed capital expenditures—the only major integrated U.S. oil company to do so. The changes come amid speculation among analysts that ConocoPhillips is seeking to quell discontent among investors.

ConocoPhillips said it would cut its capital budget by 12% to $11 billion, and proceeds from the sale of exploration, production and refining assets will go toward bringing its debt ratio to a targeted 20% to 25% from its current levels of about 34%. The company's debt burden rose after the acquisition of North American natural-gas provider Burlington Resources for about $35 billion in 2005; last year, ConocoPhillips paid $8 billion for a 50% stake in the coal-seam assets of Australia's Origin Energy Ltd. Both purchases, which took place when energy prices were high, are currently perceived as ill-timed.

The firm also said it would boost its quarterly dividend by 6.4% to 50 cents.

"We will replace reserves and grow production from a reduced, but more strategic, asset base," ConocoPhillips Chief Executive James Mulva said in a statement.

Some analysts were dismayed that ConocoPhillips was cutting capital investments such as drilling programs at a time when the company needs to boost output. It is also putting assets up for sale just as values are bottoming out. Exxon Mobil is capitalizing on weak market conditions to scoop up potentially lucrative oil fields on the cheap.

The dividend increase also worried some analysts.

"If I was a shareholder, I'd prefer to see a higher capital budget rather than a dividend increase," says Phil Weiss, an analyst at Argus Research. "I don't think it makes sense to raise the dividend at the same time a company is cutting spending and rationalizing its asset base."

ConocoPhillips didn't specify which assets it would sell, but analysts have previously said that shedding the company's 20% stake at Russia's OAO Lukoil couldbe a good option.

Analysts at financial-advisory firm Collins Stewart upgraded ConocoPhillips's shares to "buy" last week, making the case that the company could sell its Lukoil stake in order to pay down debt.

Last week, the company said its third-quarter earnings would be hit by lower natural-gas prices and weak refining profits.

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