Earnings for Big Oil backpaddle as natgas prices tumble

By Thomson Reuters Apr 26, 2024 | 12:02 PM

By Sabrina Valle

HOUSTON (Reuters) – U.S. and European oil companies reported weaker first quarter results on Friday due to a sharp drop in natural gas prices compared with a year ago.

In the U.S., Exxon Mobil missed Wall Street earnings targets on larger-than-forecast drop in natural gas earnings and Chevron beat tempered expectations with better-than-expected U.S. oil production.

French oil major TotalEnergies also slightly beat analysts forecasts as good refining margins partially offset a steep drop in profits from natural gas. CEO Patrick Pouyanne, however, warned that the higher oil prices that have offset weak natural gas profits could cut into refining margins later this year.

Exxon’s profit fell 28%, Chevron decreased 16% and TotalEnergies was down 22% year-on-year, with the two U.S. oil majors also taking a toll from weaker profits from gasoline and fuels.

Profits at oil and gas firms are still retreating from record levels in 2022 that were boosted by a surge in demand after the COVID-19 pandemic and then when prices spiked after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Henry Hub futures, the benchmark for U.S. gas, has been trading below $1.70 per million British thermal unit (mmBtu), and earlier this year dropped to a 3-1/2-year low on warm weather and oversupply.

Global benchmark Brent crude prices were largely flat against a year ago at $81.76 a barrel in the quarter.

Last year’s strong profits led Exxon, Chevron, Occidental Petroleum to bid for rivals hoping to generate higher oil and gas production.

Exxon posted an $8.5 billion profit, its second highest for the first quarter in more than a decade, while Chevron earned $5.5 billion and TotalEnergies delivered $5.1 billion in adjusted net.

Share prices reflected the profit drops, with Exxon down 3.6% and Chevron off 1% in midday New York trading. TotalEnergies was up 2.6% in Paris trading after reconfirming a $2 billion share buyback.

Executives offered no new guidance on their production outlooks for coming quarters on conference calls, giving investor less reason to cheer.

In part, the two largest U.S. oil companies’ outlook depends on pending approvals for two bid deals.

Exxon aims to close its purchase of Pioneer Natural Resources in the current quarter, it said. Chevron said its offer for Hess is moving ahead, and is expected to be put for shareholder vote in late May.

(Reporting by Sabrina Valle in Houston, America Hernandez in Paris and Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Marguerita Choy)