Soco Profits Surge 1,699%

LONDON -- Soco International (ISE: SIA.L) advanced 2 pence to 357 pence in early London trading after the oil and gas producer published its half-year results.

Soco reported six-month revenues up 897% to $263 million and operating profits up 1,699% to $203 million. The striking performance was driven by operations commencing at the firm's Te Giac Trang field in Vietnam, which helped production move from 2,339 to 12,197 barrels of oil a day.

Greater profits helped Soco's cash position improve from $114 million to $178 million. The first six months of 2012 also witnessed $33 million spent on share buybacks at 276 pence -- or 23% below the current price. However, no dividend was declared.

Soco confirmed a second platform at the Te Giac Trang field started production during July, which increased the operation's output to an average of 50,000 barrels of oil a day. Peak production reportedly reached 60,500 barrels a day last week.

Soco also said it was still hopeful for drilling success in Congo and Angola.

Rui de Sousa, Soco's chairman, said:

We are maintaining our existing guidance of Te Giac Trang gross production for the remainder of the year being approximately 55,000 barrels of oil a day but would note that field production rates will vary from day to day...

Even with the acquisitions of various interests and the expectation of adding one or more new projects later this year, all which will be funded from current cash balances, the advent of full production from Te Giac Trang has transformed, and will continue to transform, the Company. The priority remains to increase shareholder value. We will continue to examine all avenues of achieving this goal including building the portfolio, buying back shares in the market or distributing excess cash to shareholders.

Today's results provided the latest installment of Soco's meteoric rise from small-time oil explorer to FTSE 250 mid-cap oil producer.

Back in 1999, the group sported a market cap of about 40 million pounds, while the shares at a (split-adjusted) 15 pence traded on a P/E of about 3 with a third of the market cap represented by cash on the balance sheet.

Quite a few investors spotted the attractions of this "tinpot" back then and -- assuming they held on -- have since enjoyed 22-fold returns.

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