In one of the most challenging quarters for the oil industry in recent memory, the five Big Oil firms wrote down nearly US$50 billion from the value of their oil and gas assets as commodity prices crashed and as some of them strategically reset their expectations of oil prices going forward. The five international oil majors – ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, and Total – also reduced capital expenditure (capex) plans as well as their oil and gas production as demand crashed in the second quarter due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All majors – apart from the notable exception of Exxon – recalibrated the value of their oil and gas assets in the second quarter due to the crash in oil prices and expectations of depressed demand for at least several more quarters.
The second quarter saw some of the worst quarterly figures at Big Oil in decades, and while the overall impression was that of a dismal quarter, the majors responded in different ways to the crash in oil prices and demand.
At one end of the range, Exxon didn’t book any major write-downs this past quarter and kept its dividend. At the other end of the range of responses to the crash, BP not only slashed its dividend in half and booked billions of U.S. dollars of impairments, but it also announced a strategic shift to cut its oil production by 40 percent and increase investments in low-carbon energy tenfold within a decade.
Exxon reported its second consecutive quarterly loss, which was the worst loss for the U.S. supermajor in its modern history. It reiterated its commitment to dividend payouts while evaluating its businesses on a country-by-country basis after having identified “significant potential for additional reductions.”
A week after the results release, Exxon said in an SEC filing that the low oil prices could result in 20-percent reductions to its proved reserves at end 2020, compared to 22.4 billion oil-equivalent barrels reported at year-end 2019.
“If average prices seen thus far in 2020 persist for the remainder of the year, under the SEC definition of proved reserves, certain quantities of crude oil, bitumen and natural gas will not qualify as proved reserves at year-end 2020,” Exxon said.
Unlike Exxon, the other U.S. supermajor, Chevron, booked impairments – at a total of US$5 billion – as it also reported its worst quarterly results in three decades. Chevron’s charges include US$1.8 billion mostly associated with downward revisions to its commodity price outlook, full impairment of its US$2.6 billion investment in Venezuela, and a US$780 million charge due to severance accruals as it plans to cut 13 percent, or around 6,000 jobs, of its workforce.
Across the Atlantic, European majors Shell and Total managed to avoid adjusted losses thanks to their keen oil trading businesses that cushioned the blow from the low oil prices.
Yet, both Shell and Total also booked impairments connected to their revised oil price outlooks. Shell booked an impairment charge of US$16.8 billion post-tax as it revised its price assumptions and market fundamentals. Total booked US$8.1 billion impairments – of which US$7 billion in Canada’s oil sands – as it cut its short-term price expectations.
“Beyond 2030, given technological developments, particularly in the transportation sector, Total anticipates oil demand will have reached its peak and Brent prices should tend toward the long-term price of 50$/b, in line with the IEA SDS scenario,” Total said.
Total, however, kept its dividend intact, becoming the only European major to not resort to dividend cuts so far this year. Equinor and Shell slashed dividends as early as reporting their first-quarter results at end-April-early May, while Eni and BP announced dividend cuts with the Q2 results in the past two weeks.
BP halved its dividend, reducing the payout to shareholders for the first time since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. The dividend cut was not a surprise—it was widely expected by analysts. While the dividend was one headline-grabbing story, the other was the fact that BP pledged to reduce its oil and gas production by 40 percent by 2030 as part of its strategy to reinvent itself from an International Oil Company (IOC) to an Integrated Energy Company (IEC).
BP had pledged to become a net-zero energy business by 2050 in early February before the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the world and led to analysts thinking whether oil demand will ever return to pre-crisis levels.
Commenting on BP’s strategy unveiled last week, Luke Parker, Wood Mackenzie Vice President, Corporate Analysis, said:
“But if ever there was a moment to reset, this was it. Several factors have converged to make it possible: coronavirus and everything that comes with it; a strategic pivot to net-zero on the horizon; Shell’s dividend reset; a new leadership with credit in the bank. Our view is that BP has taken the prudent course of action.”