By Scott Deveau
Representatives for Exxon and D.E. Shaw declined to comment on the talks.
Exxon has come under sustained shareholder pressure in recent weeks as it continues to bleed cash amid low oil prices while also facing questions over its climate strategy. Despite being the largest U.S. oil company, none of Exxon’s current directors joined with significant experience of the industry.
D.E. Shaw has built a sizable position in Exxon and is urging the company to cut spending to improve its performance and protect its dividend, people familiar with the matter said in December. The investment firm sent a letter to the company on Dec. 8 in which it argued change is needed at the company, which had consistently underperformed its rival Chevron Corp., the people said at the time.
It’s possible that the additional D.E. Shaw director candidates could be appointed to the board in the coming weeks as part of a settlement or agreement with the company, the people said. It’s unclear how many directors may be named to the board Tuesday, the same day Exxon reports fourth-quarter earnings, or how many candidates D.E. Shaw nominated.
D.E. Shaw has urged Exxon to cut capital expenditure to a maintenance level of about $13 billion from a planned $23 billion this year, and to slash its operating expenses by as much as $5 billion, the people said.
First-time activist investor Engine No. 1 has also nominated four directors to the board of Exxon. The firm, which has the backing of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, has called on the company to refresh its board, overhaul executive compensation, and invest in more profitable drilling and clean energy.
D.E. Shaw has a history of agitating for changes at large companies, including Marathon Petroleum Corp., Emerson Electric Co., Lowe’s Cos., Bunge Ltd. and others.