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Image courtesy of Shell

Royal Dutch Shell Plc said fourth quarter profit plunged 48 percent. It blamed higher exploration costs and lower production.

Europe’s biggest company reported quarterly profits of $2.9 billion, down from $5.6 billion a year earlier.

Shell had warned about the fall in earnings in mid January. It cited losses in North and South America, lower refining margins, and disruptions in production in Nigeria and other countries.

Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden took over from Peter Voser this year.

The profit warning for the quarter was the first one from Shell in ten years.

Shell, based in The Hague, is planning to sell about $15 billion in assets this year.

On the block could be its stake in Australia’s Woodside Petroleum, estimated to be worth about $6.3 billion.

Shell has set a cap-ex budget for 2012-2015 of $130 billion.