The first quarter of 2018 has proven to be a continuation of an upswing that settled in over 2017, at least according to the financial results of the supermajors. Aggressive cost-cutting from the past paired with a consistent rise in crude prices over the first quarter has contributed to revenue and net profit gains across the board.
In London, BP announced its highest profits in years, with net profits jumping to US$2.59 billion, even as the company continues to be burdened by payments over the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe from 2010. But investors still reacted well to the numbers, with BP’s share price reaching its highest levels since 2010 and it named a new chairman – Statoil’s Helge Lund – who will be tasked to continue this streak of growth. Fellow European supermajor Total continued its winning streak, beating expectations in both revenue and net profits, as did Shell, where net profits jumped 42% to US$5.32 billion. In fact, Shell has beaten the industry’s behemoth – ExxonMobil – in net profits for the past three quarters. ExxonMobil missed analyst expectations narrowly once again in the first quarter, although its US$4.7 billion net profit is nothing to be sniffed at. Yet, ExxonMobil shares remain on the downswing, with industry perception that new CEO Darren Woods have overseen a recovery that remains weaker than Shell’s and even Chevron’s.
The rise continues across the rest of the industry. Profits at Schlumberger are up 88%, promising a recovery in the service sector. Even Pemex, that beleaguered Mexican state oil firm, reported a 29% jump in net profits to US$6 billion. The impetus for the improvement has been rising crude prices, which averaged US$63/b over Q118 compared to US$53/b over Q117. In most cases, the magnitude of net profit increase has been matched by similar growth in revenue – which is a sign that the crude price rally is behind much of the profit gains. With crude prices trending even higher in Q218, industry financials are due for an even better quarter, though it is still too early to declare that the good times have come back for good.
Still, with numbers firmly in the black, analysts and investors are turning their eye towards more granular data to gauge performance. In this case, cash flow. Hoping that the increased profits will be passed on to shareholders through share buybacks, investors have rewarded firms that are embarking on buybacks – BP, Total – and punished those that have shied away. Shell’s share prices were hammered after it announced it was not proceeding with a US$25 billion stock repurchase program yet, and ExxonMobil still has no intention of returning to generous buybacks as of yet. The latter two argue that more work needs to be done to fortify operational foundations, but it seems that investors are getting impatient and want to be rewarded for their patience since 2015.
From a long term investment perspective, Reuters reports that “ investors remain wary that oil demand may peak due to eventual mass adoption of battery-powered cars and more curbs on fossil fuel emissions by industry to meet environmental targets. Some are hedging their bets, buying shares in battery companies and chipmakers involved in making electric cars while lessening their exposure to pure oil plays. But the shift to cleaner energy doesn’t necessarily mean investors are dumping the oil majors. Many are sticking with them but favouring companies which put more emphasis on renewables”. This seems to indicate that investors are still keen a growth story, that is sustainable from a long term perspective.
Something interesting to share?
Join NrgEdge and create your own NrgBuzz today
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 11 February 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$52/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
Global liquid fuels
Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions
2018 was a year that started with crude prices at US$62/b and ended at US$46/b. In between those two points, prices had gently risen up to peak of US$80/b as the oil world worried about the impact of new American sanctions on Iran in September before crashing down in the last two months on a rising tide of American production. What did that mean for the financial health of the industry over the last quarter and last year?
Nothing negative, it appears. With the last of the financial results from supermajors released, the world’s largest oil firms reported strong profits for Q418 and blockbuster profits for the full year 2018. Despite the blip in prices, the efforts of the supermajors – along with the rest of the industry – to keep costs in check after being burnt by the 2015 crash has paid off.
ExxonMobil, for example, may have missed analyst expectations for 4Q18 revenue at US$71.9 billion, but reported a better-than-expected net profit of US$6 billion. The latter was down 28% y-o-y, but the Q417 figure included a one-off benefit related to then-implemented US tax reform. Full year net profit was even better – up 5.7% to US$20.8 billion as upstream production rose to 4.01 mmboe/d – allowing ExxonMobil to come close to reclaiming its title of the world’s most profitable oil company.
But for now, that title is still held by Shell, which managed to eclipse ExxonMobil with full year net profits of US$21.4 billion. That’s the best annual results for the Anglo-Dutch firm since 2014; product of the deep and painful cost-cutting measures implemented after. Shell’s gamble in purchasing the BG Group for US$53 billion – which sparked a spat of asset sales to pare down debt – has paid off, with contributions from LNG trading named as a strong contributor to financial performance. Shell’s upstream output for 2018 came in at 3.78 mmb/d and the company is also looking to follow in the footsteps of ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP in the Permian, where it admits its footprint is currently ‘a bit small’.
Shell’s fellow British firm BP also reported its highest profits since 2014, doubling its net profits for the full year 2018 on a 65% jump in 4Q18 profits. It completes a long recovery for the firm, which has struggled since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, allowing it to focus on the future – specifically US shale through the recent US$10.5 billion purchase of BHP’s Permian assets. Chevron, too, is focusing on onshore shale, as surging Permian output drove full year net profit up by 60.8% and 4Q18 net profit up by 19.9%. Chevron is also increasingly focusing on vertical integration again – to capture the full value of surging Texas crude by expanding its refining facilities in Texas, just as ExxonMobil is doing in Beaumont. French major Total’s figures may have been less impressive in percentage terms – but that it is coming from a higher 2017 base, when it outperformed its bigger supermajor cousins.
So, despite the year ending with crude prices in the doldrums, 2018 seems to be proof of Big Oil’s ability to better weather price downturns after years of discipline. Some of the control is loosening – major upstream investments have either been sanctioned or planned since 2018 – but there is still enough restraint left over to keep the oil industry in the black when trends turn sour.
Supermajor Net Profits for 4Q18 and 2018
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$6 billion (-28%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$20.8 (+5.7%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$5.69 billion (+32.3%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$21.4 billion (+36%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.73 billion (+19.9%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$14.8 billion (+60.8%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.48 billion (+65%);
- 2018 - Net profit US$12.7 billion (+105%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.88 billion (+16%);
- 2018 - Net profit US$13.6 billion (+28%)