By Collin Eaton
The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 5, 2022
Exxon, Chevron and Shell deliver record profits, but investors are wary
The biggest Western oil companies, Exxon Mobil Corp., XOM -0.17% ChevronCorp. CVX 0.11% and Shell PLC, SHEL -0.77% together cleared a record of more than $132 billion in annual profit in 2022 and handed investors $78 billion via share buybacks and dividends, about 50% more than the last time oil topped $100 a barrel in 2014.
Fifteen of the 20 companies with the best returns in the S&P 500 index last year belonged to the oil industry, including Occidental Petroleum Corp., OXY 0.51%which had a 119% total shareholder return, according to Dow Jones data. After lagging behind every other sector from 2018 to 2020, energy has supplanted tech to lead the index for the past two years.
Yet many investors are still keeping their distance. Energy’s weighting within the S&P 500 has grown to about 4.9%, up from about as little as 2% during the pandemic lows. But that is well below the sector’s peak weighting of 16.2% in the second quarter of 2008, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.
Some shareholders deserted U.S. shale after incurring losses in the industry’s debt-fueled oil boom in the 2010s, and fear a repeat. Others such as pension funds, endowments and faith-based organizations have sold some or all of their oil-and-gas holdings, citing concern about the industry’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
The oil industry’s windfall has shown that global thirst for oil and gas remains strong, despite many governments’ and companies’ pledges to make a transition to cleaner-energy sources. Oil and gas prices climbed to multiyear highs when Russia invaded Ukraine last year, exacerbating years of underinvestment in fossil fuels. The cost inflation has been borne partly by consumers, as U.S. pump prices surged to record levels and Europe faced a natural-gas crisis.
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