With the last of the financial statements from major producers out, it is clear that 2017 has been a much better year for the oil & gas industry, with profits for the fourth quarter and the full year on the upswing as the year-long gain in oil prices (thank you, OPEC) swelled revenue and profits. Most majors have echoed BP CEO Bob Dudley that ‘2017 was one of the strongest years in (BP's) recent history'; yet, instead of boosting share prices, oil & gas stocks have seen a rout. Why?
The question is one of expectations versus reality. Within the cluster of five supermajors (including Total), only Shell, BP and Total managed to beat analyst expectations for Q417 results. Their American counterparts ExxonMobil and Chevron failed to meet forecasts. Despite a 750% y-o-y jump in Q417 net profits, Chevron's figure came in just under predictions. However, ExxonMobil gave the biggest surprise, reporting Q417 profits that were 2% lower than Q416, the only red in a sea of black. Shell has now eclipsed ExxonMobil's quarterly net profits for most of 2017, while BP has resumed share buybacks, a practice that remains suspended at ExxonMobil since 2016. Investors punished ExxonMobil for this, while concerns over crude prices losing steam pushed that stock price retreat across the industry.
Adding to this was a worldwide tumble across global financial markets, triggered by unexpected signs of inflation in the US that spooked investors into thinking that central banks might have to tighten policies more aggressively. The Dow Jones plunged 1000 points three times over a five-day period, with the malaise spreading to Europe and Asia. At time of writing, the share prices of the supermajors are some 5-15% lower from February 1. The losses have also extended to national oil companies (PetroChina shares are down 13% over the same period) and service firms (Schlumberger shares are down 12%), despite strong financial earnings reports.
There is reason to believe this is temporary. If 2017 was a good year for oil majors, 2018 promises to be even better. For ExxonMobil, its bumper discoveries in Guyana may start contributing to profits and production figures towards the end of the year, while Chevron's Gorgon and Wheatstone LNG projects in Australia are finally off the ground. BP has seven major upstream projects coming up, while Shell seems finally at the end of its debt-cutting exercise to justify its purchase of the BG Group. Even technical service companies – which endured a bad 2016 and 2017 – are seeing their numbers tick up. Oil prices should stay around US$60/b, despite surging shale production. The current drag on share prices is only temporary; the fundamentals are enough to see a strong 2018 for oil & gas revenue and profits, which should be enough to push stock values up over the year.
Supermajor net profit results for Q417 (vs Q416)
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