“I’m done with fossil fuels. They’re done. They’re just done.”
CNBC’s Jim Cramer didn’t even feel the need to address the disappointing earnings from the oil majors. Chevron and ExxonMobil had just announced fourth quarter results, which saw profits drop again. Their stock prices were down by 2 percent or so. It didn’t matter. He wanted to make a larger point.
“We’re starting to see divestment all over the world. We’re starting to see big pension funds say, ‘listen, we’re not going to own them anymore,’” Cramer said on CNBC. “The world’s changed. There’s new managers. They don’t want to hear whether these are good or bad.”
The entire energy sector has been hammered over the past 18 months or so. Low oil prices have hit the industry hard, but the malaise goes beyond a cyclical downturn. Investors are souring on the whole notion of oil and gas in general. Brent is trading at $60 per barrel and the share prices of many oil companies are at lower levels than they were four years ago when Brent was in the $30s.
“Look at BP. It’s a solid yield. Very good. Look at Chevron, buying back $5 billion worth of stock. Nobody cares,” Cramer said.
He said that major institutional investors want nothing to do with oil and gas because of concerns about climate change. Hefty shareholder payouts no longer matter. To be sure, this isn’t just a concern about sustainability, as if it were a temporary investment trend. Institutional investors see peak oil demand looming, the rise of EVs, and increasingly stringent policies targeting the sector. It has become both a moral issue and a financial one. Arguably, this is all factoring into the steep selloff in energy equities over the past year or so.
“We’re in the death knell phase. I know that’s very controversial. But we’re in the death knell phase,” Cramer warned. “The world has turned on them. It’s actually happening kind of quickly. You’re seeing divestiture by a lot of different funds. It’s going to be a parade that says, ‘look, these are tobacco. And we’re not going to own them.’” Related: U.S. Rig Count Drops As Oil Price Slide Accelerates
He finished up. “They’re tobacco. I think they’re tobacco. We’re in a new world,” he concluded, leaving the CNBC anchor at a loss for words.
To be sure, oil demand is still growing worldwide. Peak demand is not here yet. But Cramer thinks it’s just a matter of time.
While the big picture is damning for Big Oil, it’s still worth looking at the quarterly results from Chevron and Exxon, the original question put to Cramer. Both majors reported another disappointing quarter on Friday, which is not just the result of low oil prices, but also headwinds in natural gas, refining and petrochemicals. Exxon reported its first loss from its chemical unit in 15 years. The industry has overbuilt capacity and margins have deteriorated.
Meanwhile, Exxon offered a juicy detail in its slide deck. Permian production appears to have run into some trouble in the fourth quarter (red line on the graph).
Meanwhile, Chevron reported its worst loss in a decade - $6.6 billion – which can largely be attributed to the $10.4 billion write down it took. The impairment is the result of Chevron’s Appalachian shale gas assets as well as an offshore project in the Gulf of Mexico and an LNG project in Canada.
Overall, Exxon has spent more than it generated in cash for the 8th time in the last 10 quarters. As previously reported, the dividends for the oil majors are on an unsustainable path. After factoring in dividends and share buybacks, the oil majors have been overspending for years, financing the gap with debt and asset sales.
“We expect the market reaction to be negative to this set of results today,” RBC analyst Biraj Borkhataria said in a note to clients. “This leaves the company’s dividend completely uncovered by organic cash flow for another quarter.”
Something has to give.
By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com
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Nick Cunningham is an independent journalist, covering oil and gas, energy and environmental policy, and international politics. He is based in Portland, Oregon. More