Exxon turnaround sapped by chemicals, refining

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Exxon’s oil volume has risen year-over-year for five straight quarters after the company moved to ramp up in shale production. (Shutterstock)
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Exxon’s refining profit fell last year due to equipment outages. (AFP)
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Updated 29 January 2020

Exxon turnaround sapped by chemicals, refining

  • Chemicals and refining businesses blamed for weak fourth-quarter results

HOUSTON: At Exxon Mobil Corp, CEO Darren Woods’ plan to revive earnings at the largest US oil and gas company is being sidetracked by the two businesses he knows best: Chemicals and refining.

Another year of poor profit could require Exxon to re-evaluate its bold spending plans or weaken its ability to weather the next oil-price downturn, say oil analysts. Exxon already must borrow or sell assets to help cover shareholder dividends.

The world’s biggest publicly traded oil firm after Saudi Arabian Oil Co, Exxon was long considered one of the best-managed majors and most capable of coping with volatile prices due to its size.

Those advantages have slipped in recent years, however, with the drop in once-steady earnings from chemicals. Its total shareholder returns of negative 13 percent in the five years through this month compared with a 25 percent gain at Chevron Corp. and 82 percent at BP, according to Refinitiv.

Two years ago, CEO Woods promised to restore flagging earnings by heavily investing in operations even as rivals cut spending. The plan to crank up chemicals, refining and increase oil output pushes capital expenditures to as much as $35 billion this year, up from $19 billion in 2016, the year before Woods took over as CEO after running Exxon’s refining and chemical businesses.

Last March, he forecast potential earnings could hit $25 billion this year and nearly $31 billion in 2021, close to the $32.5 billion it earned in 2014 before the oil-price collapse.

The hoped-for payoff, however, has run headlong into a global chemicals glut, tariffs on US exports to China, and lower margins in fuels. Exxon’s refining profit last year fell on equipment outages.

The company declined to comment ahead of quarterly earnings, expected on Friday.

On Monday, Exxon shares traded under $65 — close to their level of 10 years ago.

The company recently telegraphed weak fourth-quarter results because of chemicals and refining businesses. Wall Street cut profit forecasts through 2021 on the sour outlook for both. Exxon “seems to be tracking way behind their own expectations,” said Evercore ISI analyst Doug Terreson, who slashed his quarterly forecast by a third, to 55 cents a share.

In chemicals, Woods expanded the company’s output of polyethylene, a business where it has 9 percent of global production capacity, to benefit from demand for plastic bags, food packaging and consumer goods. Output rose last summer at the depth of the US-China trade dispute, and industry margins for a key polyethylene fell 30 percent compared with levels between 2016 and 2018, said James Wilson, analyst at pricing provider ICIS.

“The industry ended up overbuilding,” said Pavel Molchanov, an analyst with investment firm Raymond James. “Exxon, of course, is among the companies that led that build-out.”

In refining, outages and higher maintenance costs at Exxon refineries in the US, Canada and Saudi Arabia hurt profit, according to regulatory filings.

Crude oil prices and slack global demand from the trade dispute are squeezing profit across the industry, said Garfield Miller, chief executive at Aegis Energy Advisers.

This month, an Exxon regulatory filing implied a loss in chemicals of about $200 million for the fourth quarter, and refining earnings of just $400 million.

In contrast, chemicals and refining delivered $7 billion to $11 billion annually for Exxon between 2013 and 2018. In the first nine months of last year, the combined profit was $2.37 billion. Exxon’s regulatory filing indicates 2019 earnings for the two at about $2.52 billion, the lowest in at least a decade.

Woods has halted the company’s oil output declines by ramping up in shale. Oil volume has risen year-over-year for five straight quarters, reversing annual declines between 2016 and 2018.

Ending the trade dispute represents the biggest challenge. Global demand for the plastic resins and pellets that Exxon makes is rising, said Marc Levine, chief executive of Plantgistix, which provides logistics for US plastic manufacturers.

“This is the first time in my lifetime and in the plastics industry’s lifetime where we make plastics resin for export,” said Levine.

China in 2018 placed an additional 25 percent tariff on US polyethylene imports, a move that helped send North American margins to the lowest levels since 2011, said Joel Morales, a polymers analyst at consultancy IHS Markit.

“Imagine having a lot of something and your biggest, easiest consumer you can’t do business with,” Morales said.

The January US-China agreement does not remove Chinese or US tariffs on chemicals, plastics or oil.

Exxon has ramped up asset sales, aiming to collect $15 billion by next year to balance spending. So far, results have been tepid. It expects to receive about $3.6 billion from selling Norwegian oil and gas production assets.

Weak demand for those assets comes as rivals have written off the value of their own properties. BP, Chevron, Equinor, Repsol and Royal Dutch Shell last year cut a total of $22 billion primarily on US assets due to sharply lower gas prices. Exxon has not signaled whether it expects any writedowns.


Brent crude back above $75 on US inventory draw, positive Fed outlook

Updated 29 July 2021

Brent crude back above $75 on US inventory draw, positive Fed outlook

  • US report showing falling oil supplies boosts market
  • Oil majors Royal Dutch Shell, Repsol post higher profits on oil gain

LONDON: Oil gained for a second day on Thursday as traders remained buoyed by yesterday’s data showing a bigger-than-expected drop in US inventories, while the Federal Reserve painted an optimistic picture of the American economy.

Brent crude gained 0.7 percent to $75.23 a barrel at 2:44 p.m. in London, set to close above the $75 mark for the first time in two weeks. US Benchmark WTI also added 0.7 percent, to $72.87.

Brent, the global benchmark, passed $75 a barrel in June for the first time in more than two years but has fallen below $69 on July 17 on concerns over the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant and an OPEC+ deal to increase production over the coming months.

Crude in storage fell to the lowest since January 2020, while distillate supplies posted the biggest decline since April, the US Energy Information Agency said in its weekly report on Wednesday. Fuel inventories fell by more than 2 million barrels.

The US economy is continuing to recover even as COVID-19 infections increase, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday, sparking speculation as to when it will begin to taper its bond purchase program.

In a separate report from the US Commerce Department today, the economy was shown to have grown at a 6.5 percent annual pace in the second quarter, below the 8.5 percent predicted in a Reuters poll of economists, but still enough to bring the economy back to its pre-pandemic size.

“The (oil inventory) falls suggest the rise in cases of COVID-19’s Delta variant is having little impact on mobility,” ANZ analysts said in a note on Thursday.

Oil prices also benefited from a statement from Iran blaming the US for stalled progress in talks over its nuclear ambitions, potentially delaying the return of Persian crude to world markets.

Global oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell and Spain’s Repsol reported blockbuster earnings today as higher oil prices boosted returns.

Shell boosted its dividend and launched a $2 billion share buyback program on Thursday as it reported the highest second quarter profits in more than two years.

Shell Chief Financial Officer Jessica Uhl said that global fuel demand was at 90 percent to 100 percent of its pre-pandemic levels, but consumption of aviation fuel remained weak.


Spanish energy giant Repsol booked a net profit of 587 million euros ($700 million) foer the second quarter, compared to a loss of 1.9 billion euros in the same period last year.

“Demand has also increased, thanks in large part to vaccination rollout,” it said.

Repsol said revenues at its petrol stations in Spain jumped by 63 percent in the second quarter when compared to the same period last year as travel picked up following the easing of lockdowns.


Cruise Saudi, MSC Group sign new five-year agreement at Jeddah port

Updated 29 July 2021

Cruise Saudi, MSC Group sign new five-year agreement at Jeddah port

  • MSC Bellissima will offer cruises to Safaga for Luxor, Egypt and Aqaba for Petra, Jordan

JEDDAH: Geneva-headquartered MSC Cruises announced on Thursday it had signed a five-year agreement with Cruise Saudi for preferential berthing rights at the port of Jeddah.

The announcement was made aboard the company’s liner MSC Bellissima at a celebration to mark the opening of Jeddah’s new passenger terminal. The ship will sail 21 voyages around the Red Sea starting from July until late October.

Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises, said in a press statement: “This is a very special, historic day for all of us. The largest and most modern ship to operate in the Red Sea has set sail from Jeddah’s new terminal to mark a new beginning for cruising in Saudi Arabia and, more broadly, for its growing tourism industry.”

The MSC Bellissima, which came into service in 2019, will offer three-to-four-night cruises to Safaga for Luxor, Egypt and Aqaba for Petra, Jordan, before returning to the Saudi homeport in Jeddah.

The ship is equipped with a 975-seat main theater, an aquapark, a bowling alley, an F1 simulator, a kids club, a cinema and a shopping gallery with more than 200 brands.

The Public Investment Fund launched Cruise Saudi in January of this year to develop a cruise industry in the Kingdom. Mark Robinson, chief operations and commercial officer, Cruise Saudi, said in a statement on Thursday: “The creation of Cruise Saudi, tasked with launching the cruise industry in Saudi Arabia, happened just six months ago at [the Future Investment Initiative] in Riyadh."

"The remit of Cruise Saudi — to create 50,000 jobs by 2025, to facilitate the building of an additional five ports, with Jeddah as a homeport, and to welcome 1.5 million annual passenger visits by 2028 — is an ambitious one, which will play a major part in strengthening the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia,” said Robinson.


Mubadala invests $250m in US biosimulation company

Updated 29 July 2021

Mubadala invests $250m in US biosimulation company

  • Transaction to close on August 2
  • Mubadala is building a growing life sciences portfolio

RIYADH: Abu Dhabi sovereign investment fund Mubadala has made a $250 million investment in US biosimulation company Certara, WAM reported.

Certara uses biosimulation to and technology-enabled services to accelerate drug discovery and development. The investment aligns with Mubadala’s strategy of enabling innovation to address unmet clinical needs and drive cost efficiencies.

Mubadala and existing institutional shareholders of Certara, including a stakeholder affiliated with alternative investment company EQT, have signed an agreement through which a Mubadala affiliate will buy more than 9.61 million shares in Certara at $26 per share from the shareholders in a private transaction scheduled to close on August 2.

“We are pleased to welcome a significant new investment from Mubadala, a sovereign investor with deep expertise in life sciences that is focused on creating lasting value,” said William F. Feehery, CEO of Certara.

EQT will remain a significant shareholder in the company after the transaction.

Mubadala invested almost $500 million in European veterinary giant IVC Evidensia in nearly in May. It has an asset base of 894 billion Emirati dirhams ($243.4 billion).


Jared Kushner investment firm to open Middle East office — Reuters

Updated 29 July 2021

Jared Kushner investment firm to open Middle East office — Reuters

  • Kushner plans to open an investment office in the coming months, sources familiar with the plan said
  • Israel office will attempt to build ties with India, Gulf, North Africa

WASHINGTON: Jared Kushner, a top adviser to former President Donald Trump, plans to launch an investment firm in coming months, a move that will take him away from politics for the foreseeable future, sources familiar with the plan said on Wednesday.
Kushner, the former CEO of Kushner Companies, who served as the Republican president’s senior adviser in the White House, is in the final stages of launching an investment firm called Affinity Partners that will be headquartered in Miami.
Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, is also looking to open an office in Israel to pursue regional investments to connect Israel’s economy and India, North Africa and the Gulf, said two people briefed on the plan, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The sources had no details about potential investors and said the firm was still in the planning phase.
Kushner has spent the last six months with his family in Miami writing a book about his White House experiences that is expected to be published early next year.
Kushner helped broker deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in a six-month flurry last year. He also helped negotiate a new US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.
Kushner remains close with his father-in-law, the sources said, but by re-entering the private sector he is stepping away from politics for the foreseeable future.
The Republican Party has been divided over the deadly attacks on the US Capitol on Jan. 6 by Trump supporters, and Trump’s false claims that he beat Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
Kushner and his family have been spending the summer as Trump’s next-door neighbor at Trump’s golf property in Bedminster, New Jersey.
People close to the former president say he is strongly considering another run for the Republican nomination in 2024.


BAE Systems raises dividend, launches new buyback on strong outlook

Updated 29 July 2021

BAE Systems raises dividend, launches new buyback on strong outlook

  • First-half underlying earnings per share up 25%
  • Share buyback worth £500m launched

LONDON: British defense company BAE Systems lifted annual guidance, raised its dividend and launched a new share buyback plan, after saying its programs to build submarines, fighter jets and other equipment were all running smoothly.
BAE, whose main customers are the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia, said it would hike its dividend to 9.9 pence, 5 percent up on last year’s interim payout, and would start a 500 million pound ($697 million) share buyback over the next 12 months.

Saudi Arabian Military Industries acquired the Advanced Electronics Co. (AEC) in December 2020, buying out the 50 percent stake held by BAE Systems.
The plan to raise investor returns, which help lift the company’s shares by more than 2 percent in early business, stands out at a time when many companies have suspended dividends to conserve cash and ride out the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
The stock is up 15 percent over the last three months.
Defense has been largely unaffected by the pandemic, with governments sticking to military and security commitments, and in some cases raising them.
For the full-year, BAE said it expected underlying earnings per share to grow by 3 percent to 5 percent over last year’s result, even if the pound continued to strengthen against the dollar, representing an improvement on previous forecasts.
BAE said action it took in 2020 to accelerate payments for its British pension deficit helped its finances, while its unit supplying commercial aviation started to recover in the period and its cybersecurity business also improved.
Agency Partners analyst Nick Cunningham said that the dividend payout was better than expected and noted the buyback was BAE’s first since 2014.
BAE Systems said its confidence had been boosted by progress in ongoing projects, as it delivered electronic warfare systems for the F-35 fighter jet program, made automation improvements to help ramp up production of combat vehicles and it approached full output of F-35 rear fuselages.
In its first-half to June 30, BAE’s underlying earnings per share rose 25 percent to 21.9 pence in the period, beating consensus forecasts of 20.0 pence.