* Eni expects production growth of over 5 pct in 2017
* Kashagan to start in October, Zohr end-2017
* Swings to Q2 loss on low oil price, Italy shutdown
* Sees no reason to change 7 bln euro asset sale plan (Adds management, analyst comments, updates shares)
By Stephen Jewkes
MILAN, July 29 (Reuters) - Italy’s Eni has raised the target for the amount of oil and gas it expects to discover this year by 50 percent, helping to offset a surprise net loss in the second quarter as it took a hit from lower crude prices.
The company also said on Friday it expected output to grow by more than 5 percent next year as production starts at its long-delayed Kashagan project in Kazakhstan, as well as in Ghana and Egypt’s Zohr.
“I am very confident about the future,” Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi said in a conference call.
Eni said it made an adjusted net loss in the second quarter of 290 million euros ($324 million) versus a net profit of 505 million euros the previous year. Analysts’ average forecast in a Thomson Reuters poll was for a profit of 59.6 million euros.
As well as suffering - like rivals - from lower oil prices, Eni was hit by a shutdown of production at a key site in Italy.
However, the company was upbeat about prospects, both for finding more hydrocarbons and increasing production.
It lifted its exploration target for this year by 50 percent to 600 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe).
Eni has one of the best success rates in the industry in finding new reserves at one of the lowest cost bases. It has discovered around 2.4 times what it actually produces since 2008, compared with a rate of just 0.3 times for its rivals.
It has made major gas discoveries in Mozambique and Egypt that have increased its reserves and has discovered more than 12 billion barrels in the last 7 years, mostly in Africa.
Eni said it expected the giant Kashagan field to start up in October this year, producing 230,000 boe by year-end, rising to 370,000 boe by mid-2017.
After huge delays and cost overruns, Kashagan finally began producing oil in September 2013 but halted production a few weeks later after gas leaks were detected in its pipelines.
Eni is also looking to sell down its stakes in its Area 4 field in Mozambique and its giant Zohr acreage in Egypt to help fund development.
The company plans to raise 7 billion euros from asset disposals by 2019, including 5 billion in the next two years.
“I see no reason to change our disposal targets,” finance chief Massimo Mondazzi told analysts, adding some sales talks were “at a very advanced stage”.
Sources have told Reuters U.S. group Exxon Mobil is in talks with Eni to buy a stake in Area 4.
Descalzi said the group was looking to sell up to half of its 50 percent stake in Area 4 but that it intended to keep operatorship and control.
Santander said Eni’s upstream portfolio supported its “buy” rating on the stock.
“Our positive investment case remains underpinned by divestment potential and asset monetisation benefits,” said oil analyst Jason Kenney.
At 1450 GMT, Eni shares were down 0.8 percent, within a European oil and gas sector down 0.4 percent.
$1 = 0.8956 euros Editing by Jane Merriman and Mark Potter