In a statement released with the company’s fourth quarter and full year 2008 results, Total said that it would need to adapt its downstream and petrochemicals production to “new trends in product demand”.

It reported a 4 per cent fall in sales of refined products globally and an 18 per cent drop in the value of chemicals sales in the final quarter of the year.

“At the same time,” the company said in the 12 February statement, “major construction projects are continuing, notably for the modernization of the Port Arthur refinery in the US, the Jubail refinery in Saudi Arabia [a joint venture with Saudi Aramco], and the start-up of the Qatofin cracker in Qatar [a joint venture between Total, Qatar Petroleum Company (Qapco) and Qatar Petroleum (QP)].”

The company reported total chemical sales of €4bn for the fourth quarter of 2008, down from €5.4bn in the same period in 2007. Full-year chemicals sales were €20.15bn, up 2 per cent from €19.80 in 2007.

Before adjustments for inventory valuation effects and assets related to the company’s share of Paris-based Sanofi-Aventis, Total reported losses of €1.87bn and €548m for its downstream and chemicals business respectively. After the adjustments, the downstream sector showed earnings of €770m and chemicals €177m.

Inventory holding losses occur when the stocks of products a company holds lose value, caused in this case by a sharp fall in the value and demand for crude oil, refined products, and petrochemicals towards the end of 2008.

The fourth quarter saw a loss of €776m before adjustments. Including these adjustments, it reported a final figure of €2.87bn, a fall of 8 per cent from the same period in 2007.

The full year saw pre-adjustment earnings of €10.59bn and an adjusted total of €13.92bn, up 22 per cent from 2007 according to the company.

Total also said that it had reaped benefits in 2008 from its Yemen liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects and its Qatargas LNG project in Qatar.

The company’s gas production increased by 25 per cent in the Middle East in 2008, to a total of 569 million cubic feet a day (cf/d), in contrast with a total fall of 2 per cent globally to 4.8 billion cf/d. LNG sales showed a total increase of two per cent globally to 9.15 million tonnes a year.

Total upstream liquids and gas production in the Middle East was up 11 per cent for the year, the company said, to 246,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day (boe/d), while African production fell 3 per cent to 783,000 boe/d.