Friday, May 6, 2016

Not-so-Big Oil: The supermajors are being forced to rethink their business model

From @theeconomist -- IT HAS been a grim decade for investors in international oil firms—among them, many of the world’s biggest pension funds. Even before oil prices started to fall in 2014, the supermajors threw money away on grandiose schemes: drilling in the Arctic and building giant gas terminals. Their returns have trailed those of other industry-leading firms by a huge margin since 2009. In the past 18 months things have gone from bad to worse. The Boston Consulting Group, a consultancy, calls it the industry’s “worst peacetime crisis”. That is evident in first-quarter results released in the past week by Exxon Mobil and Chevron of America, and European rivals, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Total, which bear the scars of a collapse in oil prices to below $30 a barrel in mid-February. Since then the oil price has rebounded to $45 a barrel; as a result of aggressive cost-cutting efforts, their earnings have mostly been better than expected. Miraculously, a bit of cheer has returned. The big firms’ share prices have outperformed America’s S? they must also prepare for a future in which oil demand is increasingly uncertain because of climate change, pollution and the emergence of alternative sources of energy. Sanford C. Bernstein, a research firm, argues that such “peak demand” is not imminent. There may be at least another 15-year growth cycle by oil firms before investors throw in the towel. But in the meantime companies need to develop a new business model built around a quest for returns rather than for reserves. These returns are still woefully low, and debts unusually high. On May 4th Shell issued its first earnings report since acquiring BG, a smaller British rival, for $54 billion in February. Thanks mostly to decent sales and marketing performance, analysts considered it a fair outcome.


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