By Kevin Crowley, Will Wade and Brian Eckhouse
The reordering of the oil giants says more about Exxon than Chevron.
The company has been struggling to generate enough cash to pay for capital expenditures, leaving it reliant on debt and putting pressure on its $15 billion-a-year dividend. It pursued a series of expensive projects that promised growth after years of stagnating production. Those became a drag on its cash flow when the pandemic hit. Chevron has meanwhile fared relatively well, having emerged with the strongest balance sheet among its Big Oil peers.
Even so, both Exxon and Chevron are receding into the rear-view mirror of NextEra Energy Inc. The world’s biggest producer of wind and solar power has now surpassed the oil majors, leading a spectacular rally in power stocks as much of the world shuns fossil fuels to fight climate change.
NextEra ended Wednesday with a market capitalization of $145.5 billion, topping Exxon’s $141.6 billion. Last month, the power giant eclipsed Chevron, now valued at $142 billion.
Exxon’s shares have tumbled more than 50% this year, and its second-quarter loss was its worst of the modern era. In August, it was ejected from the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Chevron, meanwhile, has fared relatively well amid a Covid-fueled downturn, having emerged with the strongest balance sheet among its Big Oil peers. It was able to complete its $5 billion acquisition of Noble Energy Inc. last week.
NextEra has emerged as the world’s most valuable utility, largely by betting big on renewables, especially wind. Its shares have surged more than 20% this year and it’s expanding aggressively, with plans to grow its renewables portfolio to 30 gigawatts, enough to power 22.5 million homes.
“People believe that renewable energy is a growth story and that oil and gas is a declining story,” said Jigar Shah, co-founder of the green financier Generate.
Investors have endorsed NextEra’s clean-energy strategy, with renewable energy becoming both mainstream and desirable. At least a dozen U.S. states have policies that will eventually mandate completely clean power grids, and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has proposed a green electrical system in the U.S. within 15 years.
“It’s not a niche investment anymore,” said Kit Konolige, a utilities analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “It’s a big industry.”