By Kevin Crowley
Mike Wirth, who took over as chief executive officer little more than two years ago, promised shareholders a mix of cost-cutting and production growth centered in the prolific Permian basin in Texas and New Mexico to offer attractive financial returns even as customers and policymakers demand lower-carbon fuels.
The target, unveiled by Chevron ahead of its investor meeting in New York on Tuesday, is illustrative of the high-wire balancing act facing Big Oil. The industry’s largest companies are being asked to reinvest in future production, reward shareholders, and, at the same time, work through an energy transition that may spell the end of fossil fuel growth within a decade.
To meet these challenges, Wirth is investing in Permian Basin shale, cutting expenses and holding back on megaprojects while making small bets on clean-fuel technologies. San Ramon, California-based Chevron said in a statement it will reduce costs by $2 billion and hold annual capital spending to no more than 10% above current levels.
The measures should boost cash flows, and raise returns on capital to more than 10% by 2024, Chevron said. That addresses a key concern for many investors — Chevron’s returns have languished in recent years, far below where they stood a decade earlier. Exxon Mobil Corp. has seen a similar deterioration.
With a strategy of emphasizing cash flow and cash returned to investors over outright production growth, Chevron is following the path laid down in recent years by another U.S. rival, ConocoPhillips.
Chevron’s new target of shareholder distributions suggests a significant increase from what the American oil giant has been doing until recently. Last year, Chevron returned $13 billion in dividends and buybacks, equivalent to $65 billion if repeated over a five-year period.
Chevron’s goal to return $75 billion to $80 billion to investors over the next five years is equivalent to about 45% of its current market value.
“Our advantaged portfolio and capital efficiency enable us to grow cash flows and increase returns without relying on rising oil prices,” Wirth said in the statement.
Chevron’s shares up 0.5% at $97.10 at 7:39 a.m. in pre-market trading in New York. Through Monday, they had declined 20%, almost mirroring the fall in Brent crude and showing that investors are not giving the oil giant much benefit for its refineries and chemical operations that usually cushion the impact of low prices. With Chevron getting an increasing portion of its production from shale, which has short development times, the company has a greater ability to slow output than in the past.