US oil producers defy calls to open taps and tame war-driven energy prices


America’s largest oil and fuel producers are conserving a lid on provide, defying calls from the Biden administration to carry output whilst hovering gas prices pushed by Russia’s battle in Ukraine ship bumper earnings.

Top shale oil and fuel producers together with ConocoPhillips, Pioneer Natural Resources and Devon Energy all unveiled a pointy enhance in second-quarter earnings this month as excessive crude and pure fuel prices fill the business’s coffers.

But executives say they continue to be beneath stress from Wall Street to return the windfall to traders by way of dividends and share buybacks moderately than spending closely to enhance manufacturing.

“Unless we have shareholders that come in and say, look, we absolutely — we do not like these big dividends. We do not like your share repurchase programme. We want you to go back to a growth model,” Rick Muncrief, chief govt of Devon Energy, one of many shale patch’s largest producers, advised analysts. “Until we see that, I see no reason to change our strategy.”

That sentiment was echoed by different shale executives within the newest signal that oil firms and their shareholders stay unmoved by politicians’ calls for extra oil and fuel provide after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine despatched gas prices hovering. Energy prices have pushed inflation charges throughout the US and Europe to ranges not seen in 40 years.

President Joe Biden and different western politicians have attacked the oil firms’ resolution to funnel earnings again to shareholders moderately than spend money on new manufacturing that might assist tame prices.

Over the previous decade, the US shale business turned infamous for freewheeling spending that delivered rising output however inflicted heavy losses on shareholders and plunged firms deep into debt.

The strategy now being adopted has slowed the nation’s oil provide progress in contrast to current years when commodity prices had been elevated. The US is producing about 12.1mn barrels a day of crude, in accordance to the Energy Information Administration. That is up about 800,000b/d from a yr in the past, however nonetheless properly shy of pre-coronavirus pandemic highs.

The progress in output this yr has primarily been pushed by non-public operators not beneath the identical sort of shareholder stress to cap funding.

Occidental Petroleum says it’s nonetheless centered on paying down extra of the debt it took on to purchase Anadarko Petroleum in 2019 and lifting its dividend. For now, it sees ploughing money into its personal shares as a greater guess than increasing output.

“We don’t feel the need to grow production,” stated the corporate’s chief govt Vicki Hollub. “We feel like one of the best values right now is investment in our own stock.” Billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has constructed an virtually 20 per cent stake in Occidental, serving to its share worth greater than double over the previous yr.

This yr has marked a reversal within the shale business’s fortunes after hefty losses throughout the pandemic, though fears of a recession have as soon as once more forged a cloud over its prospects.

The S&P oil and fuel producers alternate traded fund is down about 26 per cent from its current highs in early June, however stays up 25 per cent this yr, making it a standout in a bleak yr for the broader market.

Yet many oil executives declare that the disruption in provide stemming from Russia’s invasion in Ukraine will put a ground beneath crude prices whilst financial progress slows.

“What’s a little bit different this time is that the world today still appears to be chronically short physical barrels with not a lot of spare capacity to fill that gap,” stated Travis Stice, chief govt of Diamondback Energy. “The macro situation looks pretty positive for energy prices over the next couple of years, even in spite of what I know will be a recessionary impact.”

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