May 4 (Reuters) - U.S. oil and gas producer Noble Energy Inc said it expects to spend less than the $1.5 billion it had budgeted for the year, but would consider spending more on U.S. shale assets if crude oil prices moved and stayed above $50 per barrel.
The company also reported a smaller-than-expected loss for the first quarter and raised its 2016 sales volume forecast, helping send its shares up as much as 6 percent on Wednesday.
U.S. oil companies are gearing up for new drilling projects, buoyed by a 50 percent increase in crude prices since February.
Last week, Pioneer Natural Resources said it would add rigs if oil stayed near or rose above $50 per barrel.
U.S. crude was up 1 percent at $44.10 at 1500 GMT.
"As commodity prices move and sustain above $50 per barrel we will begin to consider additional capital allocation to the U.S. unconventional business, with initial focus on our low-cost and liquid-rich assets in the DJ Basin in Texas," Noble Chief Executive David Stover said on a post-earnings call.
The company said on Tuesday it would sell about 33,100 undeveloped net acres in the DJ Basin in Colorado to Synergy Resources Corp for $505 million.
Noble, which has generated total proceeds of over $775 million through asset sales so far in 2016, plans to sell 11 percent of its stake in Israel's Tamar natural gas field, and indicated it may also look at monetizing its midstream business.
The company in November shelved the IPO of a master limited partnership holding midstream assets located primarily in Colorado.
Noble said it now expects 2016 sales volumes of 405,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d), higher than its earlier forecast of 390,000 boe/d.
A 31 percent rise sales volumes, to 416,000 boe/d, as well as lower costs helped the company beat analysts' expectations in the first quarter ended March 31.
Lease operating expenses fell 34 percent to average $3.63 per barrel of oil equivalent, excluding certain workover costs in the Gulf of Mexico.
Noble's net loss widened to $287 million from $22 million. Excluding one-time items, its adjusted loss was 53 cents per share, smaller than analysts average estimate of 57 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company's shares rose 6.3 percent to a high of $37.34 in early trading, before giving up almost all the gains by late morning.
(Reporting by Swetha Gopinath and Kanika Sikka in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Savio D'Souza)
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