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Energy Exxon, Chevron brace for dark times ahead as oil slump lingers

Exxon, Chevron brace for dark times ahead as oil slump lingers

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Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the biggest U.S. energy producers, hunkered down for a prolonged stretch of weak prices after posting their worst quarterly performances in several years.

Exxon reported its lowest profit since 2009 as crude prices fell twice as fast as the world’s largest crude producer by market value could slash expenses. Chevron recorded its lowest profit in more than 12 years after the market rout forced $2.6 billion in asset writedowns and related charges.

Stung by the worst market collapse since the financial crisis of 2008, oil explorers are slashing jobs, scaling back drilling, canceling rig contracts and reducing or halting share buybacks to conserve cash. Chevron said the slump convinced it to lower its long-term outlook for crude prices.

“This is the beginning, not the end, of the write-down process,” Paul Sankey, an energy analyst at Wolfe Research, said on Bloomberg TV on Friday. “The biggest concern is that we’ll see weaker demand over the second half of the year.”

Exxon cut share repurchases for the current quarter in half to $500 million after net income fell to $4.19 billion, or $1 a share, from $8.78 billion, or $2.05, a year earlier, the Irving, Texas-based company said in a statement on Friday. The per-share result was 11 cents lower than the average estimate of 20 analysts in a Bloomberg survey.

For Exxon, refinery profits fattened by lower costs for crude were more than offset by weaker results in the company’s primary business, oil and natural gas production, Exxon said. The company’s U.S. wells posted a $47 million loss.

Exxon reduced spending on major projects like floating crude platforms and gas-export terminals by 20 percent to $6.746 billion during the quarter, according to the statement. International crude prices fell 42 percent from the previous year to an average of $63.50 a barrel.

Chevron’s profit dropped to $571 million, or 30 cents a share, from $5.67 billion, or $2.98, a year earlier, the San Ramon, California-based company said in a statement. The per- share result was well below the $1.16 average estimate.

Chevron’s biggest business unit — oil and gas production – – posted a loss as the second-largest U.S. energy company recorded a $1.96 billion writedown on assets and another $670 million charge for taxes and projects suspended because they no longer make economic sense.

“The write-downs will get worse into the end of the year as companies complete their end-of-the-year SEC filings,” Sankey said. “The market still looks very over-supplied with oil and we’re in peak demand season globally.”

Exxon Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson was among the first oil-industry bosses to shrink spending as the crude rout began taking shape more than a year ago. After cutting the budget by 9.3 percent in 2014, this year’s reduction may exceed the original 12 percent target, the company disclosed during an April 30 conference call with analysts.

Tillerson, an Exxon lifer whose 10th year as CEO began in January, has been pessimistic about the prospects for an imminent oil-market rebound. On April 21, he told a Houston energy conference that the supply glut and low prices will persist “for the next couple of years” at least.

Those remarks proved prophetic: international crude prices that rose 45 percent between Jan. 13 and May 6 have since tumbled 21 percent, inaugurating the second oil bear market in 14 months.

“Chevron was a disaster; Exxon was a disappointment,” Fadel Gheit, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York who rates the shares of both the equivalent of a hold and owns each. “A rising tide lifts all ships, but when the tide goes down, all ships go down.”

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Contributors: Andrew Rosati and David Wethe.

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