UPDATE 4-Falling returns force Statoil to slash growth plans

Fri Feb 7, 2014 10:06am EST
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* Pushes 2020 production target back by 3-4 years

* Slows Arctic oil exploration

* Plans quarterly dividends, more active share buy-backs

* Follows industry trend of cutting spending

* Shares jump 6 pct to highest in almost 2 years

By Gwladys Fouche and Balazs Koranyi

LONDON/OSLO, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Norway's Statoil abandoned its 2020 production target on Friday and slashed spending plans so it could pay more to shareholders, becoming the latest oil major to acknowledge the fading appeal of new energy projects.

Rising investment costs and falling prices have cut the potential returns on new oil and gas plays, especially more ambitious ones that present greater risks, prompting some companies to delay or curtail them.

Statoil has been one of the top spenders, ploughing much of the $18 billion it earned since 2010 from selling producing fields, pipelines and its retail chain to fund an aggressive global expansion of exploration and production.   Continued...