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Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the two largest energy companies in the United States, said on Friday that profits hit record highs in the second quarter as they continued to reap the benefits of soaring oil and gas prices.
Exxon reported revenue of $17.9 billion for the three months through June, more than three times what it earned in the same quarter a year ago. The energy giant’s revenue jumped to $115.6 billion from $67.7 billion a year ago. Chevron’s performance was similar, with profit more than tripling to $11.6 billion as sales hit $65 billion from $36 billion a year ago.
After oil prices nearly doubled from a year ago, earnings were expected, but Exxon and Chevron still beat analysts’ earnings forecasts in the quarter. The results mean that five of the biggest Western oil companies – including Britain’s BP and Shell, as well as France’s TotalEnergies – are expected to have generated some $60 billion in profits in the second quarter.
Shell and Total also reported bumper earnings on Thursday, and analysts expect similarly strong results from BP next week.
With oil and gas prices as high as they are, the earnings results could increase political pressure on oil companies to do more to increase production and cut costs for consumers. They have already faced heavy criticism from political leaders, including President Biden, over windfall profits at a time of rising consumer prices in the United States.
On Friday, the companies said they would increase production somewhat, but they also announced a sharp increase in share buyback programs that reward shareholders.
The surge in profits followed a surge in crude oil, natural gas and gasoline prices this year, stemming primarily from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and efforts to punish Moscow by cutting its sales of oil to the rest of the world. A global economy rebounding from the coronavirus pandemic and oil producers’ reluctance to rapidly ramp up production also contributed to the price spike.
In the three months from April to June, the U.S. crude oil benchmark averaged around $109 a barrel, 64% higher than the same period a year earlier, according to data from Bloomberg. On Friday, the price of West Texas Intermediate crude was closer to $98 a barrel.
The average price of gasoline in the United States hit a record high of just over $5 a gallon on June 14, according to AAA. But the price has come down in recent weeks. On Friday, the national average was around $4.26 a gallon.
Exxon said Friday its refining profits — profits from turning crude oil into gasoline and other fuels — jumped to $5.3 billion from a loss of $865 million a year ago. At Chevron, refining profits were $3.5 billion in the second quarter, down from $839 million a year earlier.
Rising energy costs have become a major contributor to inflation around the world and have drawn heavy criticism from energy producers. In June, Mr Biden said “Exxon has made more money than God this year”, as he criticized the company for not investing enough to increase production. Britain, home of BP and Shell, has announced a special tax on the “extraordinary” profits of oil and gas companies.
“Chevron is increasing energy supply, increasing investment, and we’re engaging constructively with Congress and this administration,” Pierre R. Breber, Chevron’s chief financial officer, said Friday on a call with investors to discuss results.
On Thursday, Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden blamed high energy prices on global market conditions and government policies that had discouraged investment in oil and natural gas.
“Ultimately our role is to provide the energy the world needs,” he said.
On Friday, Exxon and Chevron noted that they were increasing production in the Permian Basin, a shale oil field in Texas and New Mexico. But companies face pressure from shareholders not to overspend on expansion, said Faisal A. Hersi, energy analyst at Edward Jones.
“After years of overspending, these companies have found a religion and are focusing on capital spending discipline,” Mr. Hersi said. “They will try to increase production at this rate of 1-3%, which is an acceptable rate for investors as long as they are able to increase cash returns.”
At the same time, however, corporations are spending billions of dollars to buy their own stock, a move designed to reward shareholders by increasing the value of a company’s stock. The five oil giants spent more than $20 billion on takeovers in the first half and are expected to spend even more in the second half.
Chevron, which spent nearly $4 billion to repurchase its own shares in the first half, on Friday raised the upper limit of its full-year repurchase target to $15 billion from $10 billion. Exxon, which spent $6 billion on takeovers in the first half, said Friday it was “on track” with a plan to spend $30 billion in takeovers in 2022 and 2023, a goal it tripled there a few months old.
Shell said Thursday it would repurchase $6 billion of shares in the third quarter, and Total’s plan for $2 billion in third-quarter buybacks was seen as too conservative by comparison, so shares of the company did not rise as much as those of its competitors this week.
Although it’s common practice in the corporate world, spending money on buyouts, instead of investing those funds in expanding or hiring more workers, has also drawn ire. politicians, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts calling them “manipulative” and her fellow Democrats proposing a tax on the practice.
“It’s a practice that can seem unseemly, and companies don’t always have the best track records for buyouts,” said Steve Sosnick, chief strategist at Interactive Brokers. “Like all other types of investors, they may be inclined to buy high and not buy low.”
Investors have been watching corporate earnings closely this quarter as fears grow over a possible recession and its effect on economic conditions. Expectations of a slowing global economy in the second half sent energy prices plummeting in the weeks following the end of the second quarter, making it unlikely that the oil company’s profits would maintain that pace.
“I wouldn’t tell you that we’re seeing something that would say we’re in recession or close to recession,” Exxon chief executive Darren Woods said on a conference call with investors. “But I would also say it’s a complex picture, frankly.”
But, for now, stock market investors are enjoying the earnings windfall. The energy sector is one of only two of 11 groups in the S&P 500 index to post gains in 2022, returning 41.7%. The other group is utilities, which gained 3.5%.
The broader S&P 500 is down almost 14% in comparison.
On Friday, Exxon’s share price climbed 4.6% and Chevron’s 8.8%, a gain that made it one of the best performers in the S&P 500.