All the supermajors are making money again after crude’s 30% year-to-date rally to more than $65 a barrel, buoyed by rising energy demand as economies emerge from the pandemic and OPEC holds the line on big supply increases. BP Plc, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Total SE all preceded their U.S. peers with bigger-than-expected profits.
Exxon’s roughly $6 billion in free cash flow was its first positive figure since late 2018. Chevron posted $3.4 billion in first-quarter cash flow, more than enough to cover its recently increased dividend, which is a closely watched metric for the oil supermajors.
For both companies, a key driver of the cash-flow increases was steep spending cuts as less-risky endeavors such as shale drilling were favored over costlier mega-projects.
Exxon earned 64 cents a share in the first quarter, beating the 61-cent average estimate from analysts in a Bloomberg survey. The oil giant’s exploration and drilling division drove most of the gains but it also received a substantial tailwind from higher chemicals prices that helped offset losses incurred during the deadly February storm in Texas.
Exxon’s turnaround from last year’s unprecedented string of losses will help restore investor faith in its ability to cover the S&P’s third-largest dividend, the cornerstone of Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods’ pitch to Wall Street. Unlike European rivals Shell and BP, Exxon didn’t cut payouts last year, but the decision came at a cost: borrowings increased 40% to about $70 billion.
What Bloomberg Intelligence Says
Chevron continues to make progress in restoring its balance sheet and may be in a position to restart share buybacks by 2H, if oil prices remain near current levels.
— Fernando Valle, BI analyst
Read the full report here.
Chevron posted adjusted per-share profit of 90 cents, according to a statement, matching the average of analysts’ forecasts. Results across the sector signal the worst may be over from the dual menace of a worldwide glut and demand-killing Covid-19 lockdowns.
Amid the brightening outlook, significant challenges remain. Chevron’s U.S. refining network lost money for the third time in four quarters, while its overseas fuel-making plants slashed crude-processing by 16% to cope with anemic demand for transportation fuels.
Both companies cited the negative impacts of the deadly winter storm that afflicted Texas in mid-February.
In March, Chevron Chief Executive Officer Mike Wirth spoke of his desire to begin buying back shares but declined to provide a time line. Friday’s statement made no mention of share repurchases and Wirth is expected to face questions on the issue from analysts during a conference call later in the morning.