NEW YORK (AP) -- ConocoPhillips has put itself in an excellent financial position after shedding its refineries in a split this year with Phillips 66, a Citi analyst said Tuesday.
Analyst Faisel Khan said that the Houston oil and natural gas producer is expected to return $10 billion to shareholders over the next 12 months while boosting production. Khan upgraded ConocoPhillips to "Buy" from "Neutral/High Risk" and increased the company's price target to $67 from $64.80 per share.
Khan said the company will be able to pay hefty dividends this year thanks to asset sales that generated higher returns than analysts expected. Kahn also expects ConocoPhillips to maintain a long-term plan of paying dividends with yields surpassing 5 percent.
Meanwhile, the company is expected to crank up oil and gas production in coming years, particularly from wells in North America, Norway and Australia. Khan said ConocoPhillips will likely increase production by 4 percent per year through 2016.
ConocoPhillips has been trying to shed unprofitable operations and reposition itself as a smaller, more focused player in the oil business. It sold more than $20 billion in assets during the past three years, and this month it spun off its refining and chemical businesses. It plans to sell another $8 billion to $10 billion in assets over the next 12 months.
Khan said he expects profits to drop 22 percent this year to $6.74 per share before growing slightly in 2013 at $6.69 per share.
ConocoPhillips shares increased 59 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $52.70 per share in premarket trading. They hit a 52-week low of $50.66 on May 18 and are 34 percent below their high for the past year of $80.13 set in mid-July 2011.