Upstream oil firms on track to post highest-ever profits of $834b in 2022

The main contributing factor to these record financials is sustained high oil and gas prices



Total free cash from public oil exploration and production fell to around $126 billion in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing oil price collapse, halving the prior year’s total. — File photo
Total free cash from public oil exploration and production fell to around $126 billion in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing oil price collapse, halving the prior year’s total. — File photo
by

Issac John

Published: Wed 4 May 2022, 3:40 PM

Public oil exploration and production companies are on track to shatter previous record profits this year on the back of high oil and gas prices and surging demand drive financial success, according to a leading energy research and business intelligence company.

Total free cash flow (FCF) — a company’s cash from operations after accounting for outflows and asset maintenance — of oil exploration and production (E&P) companies will balloon to $834 billion, a 70 per cent increase from the $493 billion profits in 2021, according to a research by Rystad Energy.

Total FCF from public E&Ps fell to around $126 billion in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing oil price collapse, halving the prior year’s total. As the global economy rebounded and fuel demand increased, last year’s FCF levels surged to nearly $500 billion, the highest profits ever for the upstream industry, analysts at Rystad Energy said.

“The current financial health of public upstream operators is at an all-time high. Still, the good times are set to get even better this year, thanks to a perfect storm of factors pushing profits and cash flow to another record high in 2022,” said Espen Erlingsen, Rystad Energy’s head of upstream research.

The main contributing factor to these record financials is sustained high oil and gas prices. With average Brent oil prices estimated at $111 per barrel in 2022, a Henry Hub gas price at $4.2 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf) and a European gas price of $25 per Mcf, total FCF for public upstream companies will reach $834 billion this year, Rystad Energy said in a research note.

The energy research firm said it is not just record high FCF on the table for public upstream operators. Cash from operations is also expected to rocket this year, breaking the $1 trillion threshold for the first time. The $1.1 trillion projected annual total is a 56 per cent jump from 2021 levels of $719 billion, which was the highest yearly total since 2014.

“Cash from operations is typically used to fund new investments and financial costs, such as debt payments and dividends. In 2020, cash from operations dropped by almost $200 billion, or around 35 per cent, implying that companies had less money to finance new activity and issue payouts to their owners. As a result, investments also dropped in 2020, falling by almost $100 billion or around 30 per cent,” it noted.

However, despite the robust growth in cash from operations, investments are not expected to grow significantly this year, inching up to $286 billion from $258 billion in 2021. “The investment ratio shows the disparity between record cash flow and profits, and the portion of those windfalls that are reinvested. This ratio has fluctuated during the past decade, averaging around 72 per cent,” Rystad Energy said in its research report.

This year, the projected investment ratio is expected to plunge to 26 per cent, the lowest since the early 1980s. Almost all the large public E&P companies will have an investment ratio between 20 per cent and 30 per cent in 2022. US independent Occidental Petroleum has the lowest ratio of about 20 per cent, while US major ExxonMobil is expected to see the most significant increase in FCF in 2022, growing by about $18 billion.

“The meager investment ratio and soaring FCF indicate that public E&P companies will have significant cash available to pay down debt or fork out dividends to shareholders. Much of last year’s profit was spent on reducing debt, which has left upstream operators in a very healthy financial position. The upshot of this is that a significant portion of the vast profits anticipated this year will likely be paid out to shareholders,” said the report.

— issacjohn@khaleejtimes.com


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