Release date: March 27, 2019Introduction
With a planned effective date of January 1, 2020, the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) new regulations (IMO 2020) limit the sulfur content in marine fuels that ocean-going vessels use to 0.5% by weight, a reduction from the previous limit of 3.5% established in 2012. The IMO adopted the plan for this policy change in 2008, and in 2016 reaffirmed an implementation date of 2020. The change in sulfur limits has wide-ranging repercussions for the global refining and shipping industries as well for petroleum supply, demand, trade flows, and prices. The shipping and refining industries have already begun making preparations and investments to varying degrees to accommodate IMO 2020 regulations. As the implementation date for the 0.5% sulfur cap approaches, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects that shifts in petroleum product pricing may begin as early as mid-to-late 2019. EIA anticipates that the effects on petroleum prices will be most acute in 2020, and the effects on prices will be moderate after that. However, the regulations will affect petroleum supply, demand, and trade flows on a more long-term basis.
EIA shows the effects of these new regulations in both the Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), published monthly, and the Annual Energy Outlook 2019(AEO2019), released in January 2019. Because IMO 2020 will affect petroleum markets across several years, EIA’s STEO forecast and AEO2019 projections provide complementary insights into the effects of the regulations.
Both STEO and AEO2019 are based on current laws and regulations. AEO2019 centers around a Reference case based on relationships and general equilibrium models that satisfy projected energy demand under a set of constraints.
STEO provides forecasted data that are updated every month. EIA uses a combination of econometric models based on historical data to forecast where EIA anticipates energy markets will move in the next two years. The STEO relies on historical data, short-term trends, and analyst judgment in creating this forecast. Although the STEO forecasts fewer variables than the Annual Energy Outlook, STEO’s publication frequency allows EIA to incorporate developments related to the IMO rule more regularly than AEO2019, which projects variables at an annual frequency through the year 2050. In addition, because the STEO is published monthly, EIA adjust its forecasts continuously to incorporate new information.
Because the current STEO forecasts end in December 2020, the data in AEO2019 provide EIA’s projections with insight into how IMO 2020 will affect petroleum markets beyond 2020. In addition, AEO2019 has more detailed data on refinery operations, marine fuel use, and fuel costs than the STEO. Projections in the Annual Energy Outlook are generated from EIA’s highly detailed, structured equilibrium models in its National Energy Modeling System.
The first section of this report explains the findings related to IMO 2020 from the STEO and AEO2019 analysis. The second section discusses the uncertainties that might affect the way that actual outcomes deviate from EIA’s forecasts and projections.
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On 10 December 2021, if all goes to plan Royal Dutch Shell will become just Shell. The energy supermajor will move its headquarters from The Hague in The Netherlands to London, UK. At least three-quarters of the company’s shareholders must vote in favour of the change at the upcoming general meeting, which has been sold by Shell as a means of simplifying its corporate structure and better return value to shareholders, as well as be ‘better positioned to seize opportunities and play a leading role in the energy transition’. In doing so, it will no longer meet Dutch conditions for ‘royal’ designation, dropping a moniker that has defined the company through decades of evolution since 1907.
But why this and why now?
There is a complex web of reasons why, some internal and some external but the ultimate reason boils down to improving growth sustainability. Royal Dutch Shell was born through the merger of Shell Transport and Trading Company (based in the UK) and Royal Dutch (based in The Netherlands) in 1907, with both companies engaging in exploration activities ranging from seashells to crude oil. Unified across international borders, Royal Dutch Shell emerged as Europe’s answer to John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil empire, as the race to exploit oil (and later natural gas) reserves spilled out over the world. Along the way, Royal Dutch Shell chalked up a number of achievements including establishing the iconic Brent field in the North Sea to striking the first commercial oil in Nigeria. Unlike Standard Oil which was dissolved into 34 smaller companies in 1911, Royal Dutch Shell remained intact, operating as two entities until 2005, when they were finally combined in a dual-nationality structure: incorporated in the UK, but residing in the Netherlands. This managed to satisfy the national claims both countries make on the supermajor, second only to ExxonMobil in revenue and profits but proved to be costly to maintain. In 2020, fellow Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever also ditched its dual structure, opting to be based fully out of the City of London. In that sense, Shell is following the direction of the wind, as forces in its (soon to be former) home country turn sour.
There is a specific grievance that Royal Dutch Shell has with the Dutch government, the 15% dividend tax collected for Dutch-domiciled companies. It is the reason why Unilever abandoned Rotterdam and is now the reason why Shell is abandoning The Hague. And this point is particularly existentialist for Shell, since its share prices has been battered in recent years following the industry downturn since 2015, the global pandemic and being in the crosshairs of climate change activists as an emblem of why the world’s average temperatures are going haywire. The latter has already caused the largest Dutch state pension fund ABP to stop investing in fossil fuels, thereby divesting itself of Royal Dutch Shell. This was largely a symbolic move, but as religious figures will know, symbols themselves carry much power. To combat this, Shell has done two things. First, it has positioned itself to be at the forefront of energy transition, announcing ambitious emissions reductions plans in line with its European counterparts to become carbon neutral by 2050. Second, it is looking to bump up its dividend payouts after slashing them through the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic and accelerating share buybacks to remain the bluest of blue-chip stocks. But then, earlier this year, a Dutch court ruled that Shell’s emissions targets were ‘not ambitious enough’, ordering a stricter aim within a tighter timeframe. And the 15% dividend tax remains – even though Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s coalition government has been attempting to scrap it, with (it is presumed) some lobbying from Royal Dutch Shell and Unilever.
As simplistic it is to think that Shell is leaving for London believes the citizens of the Netherlands has turned its back on the company, the ultimate reason was the dividend tax. Reportedly, CEO Ben van Buerden called up Mark Rutte on Sunday informing him of the planned move. Rutte’s reaction, it is said was of dismay. And he embarked on a last-ditch effort to persuade Royal Dutch Shell to change its mind, by immediately lobbying his government’s coalition partners to back an abolition of the dividend tax. The reaction was perhaps not what he expected, with left-wing and green parties calling Shell’s threat ‘blackmail’. With democracy drawing a line, Shell decided to walk; or at least present an exit plan endorsed by its Board to be voted by shareholders. Many in the Netherlands see Shell’s exit and the loss of the moniker Royal Dutch – as a blow to national pride, especially since the country has been basking in the glow of expanded reputation as a result of post-Brexit migration of financial activities to Amsterdam from London. The UK, on the other hand, sees Shell’s decision and Unilever’s – as an endorsement of the country’s post-Brexit potential.
The move, if passed and in its initial stages, will be mainly structural, transferring the tax residence of Shell to London. Just ten top executives including van Buerden and CFO Jessica Uhl will be making the move to London. Three major arms – Projects and Technology, Global Upstream and Integrated Gas and Renewable Energies – will remain in The Hague. As will Shell’s massive physical reach on Dutch soil: the huge integrated refinery in Pernis, the biofuels hub in Rotterdam, the country’s first offshore wind farm and the mammoth Porthos carbon capture project that will funnel emissions from Rotterdam to be stored in empty North Sea gas fields. And Shell’s troubles with activists will still continue. British climate change activists are as, if not more aggressive as their Dutch counterpart, this being the country where Extinction Rebellion was born. Perhaps more of a threat is activist investor Third Point, which recently acquired a chunk of Shell shares and has been advocating splitting the company into two – a legacy business for fossil fuels and a futures-focused business for renewables.
So Shell’s business remains, even though its address has changed. In the grand scheme of things, never mind the small matter of Dutch national pride – Royal Dutch Shell’s roadmap to remain an investment icon and a major driver of energy transition will continue in its current form. This is a quibble about money or rather, tax – that will have little to no impact on Shell’s operations or on its ambitions. Royal Dutch Shell is poised to become just Shell. Different name and a different house, but the same contents. Unless, of course, Queen Elizabeth II decides to provide royal assent, in which case, Shell might one day become Royal British Shell.
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