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(TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS)

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Is Shell running just to stand still?

Is your company ex-growth? How chief executive officers must hate that question. It is not as inane as it sounds – some companies get big and profitable and then find themselves unable to get any bigger or more profitable. (Supermarkets are an example.) Even Big Oil may not be immune.

Looked at from one angle, Shell has run out of growth motors. Its full-year earnings for 2013 were down 14 per cent at $27-billion (U.S.) and were flat in its upstream operations. It produced just 1 per cent more oil and gas than a year ago despite $32-billion of capital expenditure. And on Thursday it did what companies that want to distract from the fact they are ex-growth sometimes do – it raised its dividend.