ConocoPhillips tells employees to expect layoffs

HOUSTON — ConocoPhillips has told its employees layoffs could be on the way, as the independent producer looks to reign in spending amid lower crude prices.

The layoffs and an accompanying pay freeze will supplement cost-control steps the Houston company has already taken, such as slashing its exploration and production budget, Daren Beaudo, a spokesman for ConocoPhillips, said in an emailed statement.

The company did not detail how many workers would be let go or when the job cuts could take place.

“As with our capital program we will be deferring, delaying or eliminating controllable costs where we can,” he said. “As part of that we are reviewing our workforce levels in light of a potential for an extended period of low prices. We’ve informed our workforce that reductions should be expected.”

Earlier Thursday, ConocoPhillips reported a fourth-quarter 2014 loss of $39 million, thanks both one-time expenses and falling crude prices.

The one-time charges included $381 million in asset writedowns and a $545 million charge incurred as the company unwinds its stake in Freeport LNG. After adjusting to exclude those items and other smaller ones, the producer reported a net income of $742 million, or about 60 cents per share.

The company first alluded to the cuts in the question and answer segment of its conference call discussing the results.

“We’ve already announced plans to reduce headcount in Europe, which is quite significant,” said Matt Fox, executive vice president of exploration and production. “We’re likely to see more headcount reductions in other parts of the business as we reassess the implications of a lower price on our future plans.”

ConocoPhillips said in mid-January it would let go of 230 jobs across the U.K., including at its main office in Scotland by March. A number of other oil and gas companies have also announced steep cuts to their workforces.

The company said earlier Thursday it would slash its capital spending budget a second time to $11.5 billion, now down about one-third from 2014.

“The dividend remained our top priority for capital allocation,” Ryan Lance, chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “The next highest priority remains getting to cash flow neutrality in 2017. With these priorities in mind, we’re going to use our capital and our balance sheet flexibility to manage through this downturn.”