By Kevin Crowley
The California oil titan lost a penny per share during the fourth quarter, compared with the Bloomberg Consensus for a 7-cent profit. Oil and natural gas production rebounded from the lowest in more than two years as the explorer assimilated fields acquired in the Noble deal and restarted wells briefly curtailed during last year’s crude-price collapse. The shares fell as much as 2.2% in pre-market trading.
In a harbinger for the rest of the oil industry, Chevron’s results evince the challenges facing energy producers battered by 2020’s pandemic-driven collapse in demand and prices. With commodity markets staging a broad rebound, the world’s biggest oil drillers can begin to wean themselves off debt and seek to rebuild their reputations with investors.
“2020 was a year like no other,” Chief Executive Officer Mike Wirth said in a statement on Friday. “We were well positioned when the pandemic and economic crisis hit, and we exited the year with a strong balance sheet.”
Low crude prices and $338 million in losses from Chevron’s global network of refineries wiped out most of the gains from harvesting oil and gas during the quarter. Crude input at its U.S. refineries dropped by 17% in response to fewer orders for jet fuel, diesel and gasoline.
Charges related to the Noble deal totaled $120 million and pension costs also increased, Chevron said. The shares dropped 1.3% to $87.90 as of 7:49 a.m. in New York.
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While the worst may be over for Big Oil, the scars of last year’s crisis will last for a long time. Chevron aggressively cut capital spending to $13.5 billion last year but that was still in excess of its $10.6 billion in cash flow. That meant borrowing more to protect dividends, contributing to a 64% increase in debt to $44.3 billion. To be sure, half of the rise in borrowing came from the Noble acquisition.
With crude up 13% since the first vaccines were approved in early November and economic optimism rising, industry management teams will be pressed by analysts and investors about their plans for deploying extra cash flow. Chevron has been touted as a potential buyer of rivals but it also has the option of reviving the ambitious Permian Basin drilling program it was forced to curb when oil cratered in 2020.