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Nowhere to hide for oil giants from doomsday market

Jul 31 2016 11:01
Joe Carroll

Chicago - Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell this week reported their lowest quarterly profits since 1999 and 2005, respectively. Chevron’s third straight loss marked the longest slump in 27 years, and BP lodged its lowest refining margins in six years.

Welcome to year two of a supply overhang so persistent it’s upsetting industry expectations that the market would return to a state of balance between production and demand. It’s left analysts befuddled and investors running to the doorways as the crude market threatened to tip into yet another bear market, dashing hopes that a slump that began in mid-2014 would show signs of abating.

Exxon missed analyst estimates by 23 cents a share and fell as much as 4.5% on Friday before recouping some of that decline. Chevron posted a surprise $1.47bn loss after booking $2.8bn in writedowns. The company’s per-share loss of 78 cents was in stark contrast to the 19- to 41-cent gains expected by analysts. BP and Shell registered similarly gloomy outcomes.

“What we’re seeing is that there’s just no place for the super-majors to hide,” Brian Youngberg, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co in St. Louis, said in an interview. “Oil prices, natural gas, refining, it all looks very bad right now.”

Crude prices dropped during the quarter from a year ago amid a global glut in the $1.5 trillion-a-year market. With diesel and gasoline prices also slumping, the companies were deprived of the tempering effect oil refining typically provides during times of low crude prices.

Given the plunge in crude and natural gas markets, “you cannot recover, no matter how efficient you are,” Fadel Gheit, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co, said during an interview with Bloomberg Television. “The industry cannot survive on current oil prices.”

Shell reported its weakest quarterly result in 11 years and missed analysts’ estimates by more than $1bn. BP said earnings tumbled 45% amid the lowest refining margins for the second quarter since 2010. US margins, based on futures contracts, plunged 30% to a second-quarter average of $17.12 a barrel from $24.42 a year earlier.

Refining profits will continue to be under “significant pressure,” BP said. Although Brent crude’s rebound provided some relief compared with the first quarter, CEO Bob Dudley still faces a difficult road ahead as the rally fades amid slowing demand growth and returning production from Canada to Nigeria.

BP’s profit, adjusted for one-time items and inventory changes, dropped to $720m from $1.3bn a year earlier, the company said on July 26. That missed the $819m average estimate of 13 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Downstream earnings, which include refining, declined 19%.

Output hurt

Exxon, the world’s biggest oil explorer by market value, said wildfires that ravaged the oil-sands region of Western Canada, along with aging wells, reduced output. Its US oil and natural gas wells lost an average of $5.6m a day during the quarter.

At Shell, the largest oil producer after Exxon, profit adjusted for one-time items and inventory changes sank 72% from a year earlier to $1.05bn, less than half the $2.16bn analysts had expected.

Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben Van Beurden, who this year completed the record purchase of BG Group, has vowed to boost savings from the acquisition following the two-year slump in crude.

It was Chevron’s third straight quarterly loss, the longest slump for the company since at least 1989, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Still adjusting

Chevron Chairperson and CEO John Watson said the company continues to adjust to the lower-price environment. He has responded to the market-driven cash squeeze by shrinking drilling programs, writing off discoveries that were too costly to develop at current prices and firing one-tenth of the workforce. The company is seeking to bolster its balance sheet by raising $5bn to $10bn from asset sales.

Despite the rout, and credit-rating cuts, Chevron greenlighted a $36.8bn expansion of a key Central Asian oilfield earlier this month. This week, the company committed to distribute a $1.07-a-share dividend that will eat up about $2bn in cash when paid out to investors in September.

Exxon Chairperson and CEO Rex Tillerson has been looking beyond the current downturn in energy markets to augment the company’s gas and oil portfolios from the South Pacific to Africa.

The company also is ploughing money into expanding refining and chemical complexes from Singapore to The Netherlands, betting that regional demand for products used in automobile tyres, engine oil and plastics will grow over the long term.

bp  |  shell  |  exxon mobil  |  chevron  |  oil and gas sector  |  markets  |  oil
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