ExxonMobil and Chevron in the United States, Eni in Italy, all announced on Friday that they had recovered in the first quarter, after abysmal losses in 2020, thanks to the rise in the price of a barrel of black gold.
With some countries easing restrictions linked to the pandemic and accelerating vaccination campaigns, economic activity is picking up again and in its wake, demand for energy.
Oil prices are benefiting to the full: a barrel of North Sea Brent averaged $ 61.1 in the quarter, down from $ 50.1 a year earlier and $ 44.2 in the fourth quarter of 2020.
This rebound is filling the pockets of oil companies: ExxonMobil earned $ 2.7 billion between January and March, Chevron $ 1.38 billion and Eni 856 million euros.
The trend was the same for other European oil giants who have released their results in recent days, with big profits for BP ($ 4.7 billion), Shell ($ 5.7 billion) or Total ( $ 3.3 billion).
This improvement is fueled by the rise in prices but also by cost reductions sometimes through massive layoffs and by the drastic drop in investments.
All these companies “probably heave a big sigh of relief in the face of the price reversal on the market, over which they have no real control,” noted Stewart Glickman, oil sector specialist for CFRA.
The world’s five largest private companies (BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and Total) had accumulated net losses of $ 77 billion last year.
“Throughout this period, we have never lost sight of the long-term fundamentals of our business,” ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods said on a conference call. “We knew that economies would recover, that populations and standards of living would continue to grow, which would ultimately lead to demand for our products and a recovery in the industry.”
– Facing activist investors –
Eni nevertheless expressed caution for the coming months, considering that “the rebalancing of the global oil market and the recovery in fuel consumption in 2021 are subject to an ongoing risk linked to the impact of the Covid pandemic -19 on a number of major world economies “.
The jump in oil and natural gas prices has in any case enabled ExxonMobil and Chevron to offset the difficulties in refining, the activity of transforming crude products into gasoline, diesel or kerosene.
The margins there “remain below their average of the last 10 years because of an excessively abundant supply and high inventory levels”, underlined ExxonMobil which has lost money in this activity during the last four quarters.
Chevron also suffers, its refining activities earning it $ 5 million in the first quarter, compared to $ 1.1 billion over the same period in 2020.
The two American groups also lost money because of the cold snap that hit the southern United States in February. It hampered the extraction of oil and gas and the activity of refineries located along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico for several days.
ExxonMobil and Chevron have not yet planned to strongly raise their investment spending, “probably to give time to reduce their debt,” said Mr. Glickman.
The American majors are also lagging behind their European counterparts on their investments in renewable energies.
“ExxonMobil basically says that to fight climate change, they prefer to focus on activities adjacent to their core business” such as carbon capture, said Glickman.
“Under the pressure of activist investors, they still try to explain a little better what they do to the markets,” he added.
At the general meeting of shareholders next month, the group will notably face the company Engine N ° 1, which campaigns for the oil major to consider alternative energies more seriously and has obtained the support of the three largest pension funds. Americans.