Exxon: First Downgrade Since Depression?
February 3, 2016
Is Oil the new coal?
Probably not, yet. But more evidence of the roller coaster that fossil fuels will probably be on as the world moves away from them, and for Exxon, maybe a preview of what markets may do as the public understands what Exxon knew, and when they knew it, about climate change.
Exxon Mobil Corp., one of three U.S. companies with Standard & Poor’s highest rating, is facing its first downgrade in 86 years as the worst crude-market collapse in a generation strangles oil producers of cash.
For Exxon, that would be a historic event: the global explorer that traces its roots to the 19th century and John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust has been rated AAA by S&P since 1930. The oil giant was placed on credit watch with negative implications because its credit measures probably will remain weak through 2018, S&P said Tuesday.
“We get value from our AAA credit rating in our business,” Exxon’s Vice President of Investor Relations Jeffrey Woodbury said during a conference call with analysts before the credit review was announced. “Whether it be access to financial markets or access to resources, there is a benefit that we get from it, and we see it as being important.”
The world’s five largest oil explorers had their credit ratings cut or threatened with downgrade as the market crash undermines their ability to pay debts, dividends and rig leases. For most of the oil industry, slashing drilling budgets and other cost-cutting “are insufficient to stem the meaningful deterioration expected in credit measures over the next few years,” S&P said.
Oil bulls distressed that last week’s rally fizzled can find some comfort in forecasts for a bigger and longer rebound by the end of the year.
Analysts are projecting prices will climb more than $15 by the end of 2016. New York crude will reach $46 a barrel during the fourth quarter, while Brent in London will trade at $48 in the same period, the median of 17 estimates compiled by Bloomberg this year show. A global surplus that fueled oil’s decline to a 12-year low will shift to deficit as U.S. shale output falls, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
The oil price rout will shut sufficient production to erode the global glut and crude will turn into a new bull market before the year is out, analysts including Goldman Sachs’ Jeff Currie said in a Jan. 15 report. U.S. production hit a record high of 9.61 million barrels a day in June, according to weekly data from the EIA, and is forecast to average 9.11 million barrels a day in the first three months of the year. It may fall to average 8.49 million barrels a day during the fourth quarter, according to the agency.
‘Drown in Oversupply’
“We’ll see higher oil prices” with “supply and demand tightening in the second half of the year,” Bob Dudley, chief executive officer of BP Plc, said in a Bloomberg Television interview Tuesday. The market will remain “tough and choppy” in the first half as it contends with a surplus of 1 million barrels a day, he said.