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Big Oil set to open cash taps


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Big Oil set to open cash taps

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London – Top Western energy companies are expected to unleash billions in returns to shareholders when they announce what is set to be a second-straight quarter of record-breaking profits, lifted by stellar refining margins and high oil and gas prices.

A rapid recovery in demand following the end of pandemic lockdowns and a surge in energy prices, driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have boosted profits for companies such as Exxon Mobil and Shell after a two-year slump.

Exxon earlier this month said it could post its strongest quarter yet, with profit potentially surpassing U.S. $16 billion, almost twice its first-quarter earnings.

The companies have used the cash surge to cut debt accumulated during the pandemic, and, as they reach their debt targets, analysts anticipate they will increase cash distribution to shareholders.

The profit bonanza has stirred demands for governments to increase taxes on energy companies to help consumers deal with record-high electricity and fuel prices.

Britain, home to Shell and BP, imposed a 25 per cent windfall tax in May.

In the United States, President Joe Biden accused Exxon of making “more money than God” and said companies were exploiting a global oil supply shortage to fatten profits.

Oil prices rose in the second quarter, with benchmark Brent crude averaging around U.S. $113 a barrel in the quarter, compared with U.S. $102 a barrel in the first three months.

The energy majors’ good fortunes – BP chief executive officer Bernard Looney called his company a “cash machine” – has also increased pressure on boards to revise their shareholder returns plans, drawn up mostly after the pandemic struck.

Shell, BP  and TotalEnergies have indicated they will boost returns in the form of share repurchases.

But some investors say they should do more. (Reuters)