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    ConocoPhillips to Sell $1 Billion in Assets

    Convenience stores will play small role in company performance.

    HOUSTON -- ConocoPhillips Inc. plans to sell $1 billion worth of assets next year as the Houston energy company seeks to improve its margins and catch up with competitors, reported the Houston Chronicle.

    ConocoPhillips plans to sell more business assets than originally forecast to be more competitive per dollar invested. The sales will allow it to pare the lower-margin businesses and pay down debt.

    The company wants to finish selling retail gasoline stores. By the middle of next year, President and CEO James Mulva said, ConocoPhillips will directly own only 300 to 350 retail gasoline outlets.

    This follows the agreement in early October to sell 1,636 Circle K gas stations to Laval, Quebec-based convenience store operator Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. There are no plans to sell any refining operations, Mulva said. ConocoPhillips is the nation's largest refiner.
    By year's end, the company that resulted from the September 2002 merger of Conoco and Phillips Petroleum will have sold about $3.5 billion in assets, the newspaper reported.
    Wednesday the company told analysts that it would sell another $1 billion in 2004. That brings the total to $4.5 billion, up from earlier forecasts that ranged from $3 billion to $4 billion.

    Once the assets are sold, ConocoPhillips will end up with about 36,000 employees, compared with the 54,800 it had on Sept. 30. The bulk of the huge difference is Circle K employees, spokeswoman Kristi DesJarlais said.
    The upcoming asset sales will reduce the payroll, but the jobs are tied to the assets, and some news reports about more than 2,000 job reductions during 2004 are wrong, she said.

    There is a deliberate shift toward oil and natural gas exploration, with that segment of the business to be increased to 65 percent of capital employed, compared with the current level of about 60 percent. Longer-term plans call for a 3-percent increase in oil and gas output, reported the Chronicle.

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