Oil at $50 could help energy firms recover to profitability, analyst says

Oil at $50 per barrel could provide a strong base for energy companies to see their share prices recover and profitability rebound, according to an industry analyst.

Source: The National

“If oil prices from here on are stagnant in the $50s then share prices of the oil majors should recover, to the extent that they can operate more profitably with a constant oil price,” said Christof Ruhl, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Centre on Global Energy Policy.

He was speaking an energy markets forum organised by Dubai-based consultancy Gulf Intelligence.

International oil companies suffered a harrowing year in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic wiped out demand for the industry due to widespread lockdowns across the globe.

Big Oil companies such as Shell and BP wrote off billions of dollars of value from their oil and gas assets. The Anglo-Dutch major also slashed its dividend for the first time since the Second World War due to the impact on its business from Covid-19.

However, as oil and gas majors are close to disclosing their fourth-quarter earnings, analysts expect somewhat of a modest recovery, supported by the rally in price seen towards the end of the year, on vaccine hopes.

Oil prices have surged 10 per cent since the start of the year, with both Brent, the international benchmark, and West Texas Intermediate, the US gauge, trading above $50 per barrel.

Their rallies have been fuelled by the persistence of a commodity supercycle as well as optimism over a global recovery on the basis of ongoing vaccine rollouts.

Brent was trading at $55.38 per barrel and WTI $52.43 per barrel at 7:30am UAE time on Monday.

Mr Ruhl, who was formerly head of research at Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, also cautioned of a “ceiling” created by shale, which can rebound at mid-$50 price levels.

Energy companies offered a mixed bag of results. US firm Chevron registered three straight quarters of losses in 2020. Chevron, the second largest oil company in the US, posted a net loss of $665m in the final quarter of last year, compared with a loss of $207m for the previous quarter.

On the other hand, US energy services firm Halliburton, beat analysts’ expectations to register a profit of 18 cents per share on revenue of $3.24 billion for the final quarter of last year.

On Sunday, Sabic, the Middle East’s largest petrochemicals company, said it registered modest gains of 40m Saudi riyals ($10.7m) in 2020, beating analyst expectations. The Aramco-controlled firm’s fourth quarter earnings, however, surged 104 per cent to reach 2.22bn riyals, helping to steady overall profitability.

Shell and Exxon Mobil are set to post their fourth quarter results later this week, which will determine whether the industry is beginning to recover its losses.


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