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Oil Giants Start Losing Safety Net as Refining Margins Squeezed

By on 19 Jan 2016 in news, notable posts

(Bloomberg) Refining profits that buttressed earnings for Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc as crude prices plunged are now slumping, further pressuring all of the world’s biggest oil companies as they move into 2016.

Global refining margins, the estimated profit from turning oil into gasoline and diesel, fell 34 percent in the fourth quarter, the steepest decline in eight years, to $13.20 a barrel, data on BP Plc’s website show. Every $1 drop cuts BP’s pretax adjusted earnings by $500 million a year, according to its website.

The companies face a squeeze on processing profits as a mild winter curbs demand for heating oil and diesel, creating huge stockpiles in the U.S. and Europe. That’s a reverse from the past two years, a period when refining earnings doubled, and kicks away one of the remaining buffers for integrated oil giants grappling with crude prices at a 12-year low.

“It’s a bit of a double whammy, lower oil prices and refining margins starting to weaken,” said Iain Reid, an analyst at Macquarie Capital Ltd. in London. “The safety net is still there, but there are some holes in it now.” Analysts have cut their fourth-quarter 2015 and first-quarter 2016 adjusted earnings per share forecasts in the past month for Exxon, Shell, Total SA, Eni SpA, Statoil ASA and Repsol SA, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Oil’s slump of more than 70 percent over the past 18 months has resulted in 250,000 job losses in the industry globally and more than $2.7 trillion of market value of oil companies being wiped out, an amount almost equal to France’s gross domestic product. There may be more pain to come as oil trades near $30 and refining margins keep narrowing. Exxon Earnings

Exxon’s net income from refining and marketing fuels doubled to $2 billion in the third quarter from a year earlier, surpassing earnings from oil and gas production for the first time in at least 15 years. Shell’s $2.6 billion adjusted net income from refining and trading helped it report a profit after a loss of $425 million from exploration and production.

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