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APA Corp, Marathon Oil and Ovintiv boost returns as oil prices surge

By Liz Hampton and Ruhi Soni

(Reuters) -U.S. shale producers continued a streak of returning more cash to shareholders this week on the back of higher oil prices, despite criticism from lawmakers and other officials that they are reaping excessive profits at the expense of consumers.

Marathon Oil said it returned some $816 million to shareholders during the quarter, while rival Ovintiv returned roughly $200 million during the second quarter and said it expects to almost double that during the current quarter.

U.S. producer APA Corp (APA) said it had bought back some 7 million shares during the second quarter and an additional 6.9 million in July, totaling some $524 million in purchases.

The sharp focus on returns comes as oil companies remain under pressure from shareholders to increase payouts rather than spend excessively on new oil growth. But the strategy - adopted after investors fled the sector due to poor returns - has drawn criticism from lawmakers and others who want to see gasoline prices and other energy costs lowered.

On Wednesday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres criticized what he called "grotesque greed" of oil and gas companies, and urged governments to "tax excessive profits.

Crude oil prices have been falling recently, sliding about 4% on Wednesday to an almost six-month low.

APA Corp (APA) reported on Wednesday a second-quarter profit that nearly tripled. Net income attributable to common stock rose to $926 million, or $2.71 a share, in the quarter, from $316 million, or 82 cents per share, a year earlier.

APA reported quarterly production of 385,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, down roughly 2.5% from a year ago.

The company also said it had purchased properties in the Texas Delaware portion of the Permian basin during the quarter for $505 million, from an undisclosed buyer.

Reuters reported earlier on Wednesday that APA was buying assets in Texas from privately owned Titus Oil & Gas.

Ovintiv reported after-tax earnings of $1.36 billion, or $5.21 per share, blowing past Wall Street estimates of $2.82 per share, according to Refinitiv IBES data. Marathon Oil reported adjusted net income of $934 million, or 1.32 cents per share, topping analysts' forecast of $1.26, according to Refintiv IBES.

(Reporting by Ruhi Soni in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Leslie Adler)

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