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Shell cuts 2016 spending by $2 billion as it prepares for BG

LONDON _ Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, further reduced spending plans for this year and 2016 as it prepares to take over BG Group amid slumping prices for crude.

The combined company plans $33 billion of capital spending next year, lower than Shell’s previous guidance of $35 billion, it said Tuesday. Shell also cut its spending forecast for this year by $1 billion to $29 billion.

Crude’s collapse to less than $37 a barrel from about $55 on the day the deal was announced in April has prompted some investors to question whether Shell is paying too much. The oil producer has justified the deal by saying that it boosts its ability to maintain dividends, makes it the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas company and gives it oil and gas assets from Australia to Brazil.

“The two companies are combining during a low oil-price environment and cutting their spending plans makes a lot of sense,” said Jason Gammel, a London-based analyst with Jefferies International Ltd. “This moves the plans for the deal forward.”

Shell expects operating costs to fall by $4 billion this year, about 10 percent lower than last year, and by $3 billion in 2016. The acquisition will break even with Brent crude prices in the low $60s and add to operating cash flow per share at $50 a barrel in 2016, the company said in a statement. It expects the deal to be accretive to earnings per share, excluding identified items, in 2017 at $65 Brent.

Shell in April offered to pay 0.4454 of its B shares and 383 pence in cash for each BG share in a deal valued at $70 billion. A decline in Shell’s stock has cut that to about $53 billion as of Dec. 18, the company said in the statement.

Shell’s shareholders are scheduled to vote on the acquisition on Jan. 27 and BG’s the next day. Shell requires the backing of 50 percent of its holders. In BG’s case, votes in favor must represent at least 75 percent of the total value of BG shares. The merger is likely to become effective Feb. 15, Shell said.

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