LONDON — Oil and gas majors are likely to report bumper second-quarter earnings in the coming days, energy analysts have told CNBC, following a brutal 12 months by virtually every measure.
The expected upswing would build on a surprisingly strong showing in the first quarter and lend further support to the oil and gas industry’s efforts to pay down debt and reward investors.
“Big Oil” companies, referring to the world’s largest oil and gas majors, still face significant challenges and uncertainties, however.
These include the remarkable success of shareholder activism in recent months, a “tremendous degree” of ongoing investor skepticism and intensifying pressure to massively reduce fossil fuel use in order to meet the demands of the climate emergency.
“Europe’s integrated oil sector already enjoyed surprisingly strong earnings in 1Q, but 2Q is set to show further improvement as commodity prices took another step up,” analysts at Morgan Stanley said in a research note.
International benchmark Brent crude futures rose to an average of $69 a barrel in the second quarter, the Wall Street bank said, up from an average of $61 in the first three months of the year. The oil contract was last seen trading at around $73.57.
Analysts at Morgan Stanley noted that energy major share prices continue to be anchored by their dividend distributions. Notwithstanding substantial increases to free cash flow forecasts, the bank said Big Oil dividend expectations remain “rather static.”
“The energy transition confronts investors with much uncertainty, and the sector’s capital allocation track record has been mixed at best over the last decade. Hence, investors are only valuing the cash flow paid to them, with little credit given for cash flow retained within companies,” they said.
“As the dividend outlook has not improved much, and dividend yields in aggregate are already low by historical standards, share prices have trailed the earnings outlook considerably.”
In Europe, Royal Dutch Shell and TotalEnergies will report second-quarter earnings on July 29, with BP scheduled to follow on Aug. 3. Stateside, ExxonMobil and Chevron are expected to publish their latest figures on July 30, while ConocoPhillips will report second-quarter earnings on Aug. 3.
Rene Santos, manager for North America supply at S&P Global Platts Analytics, told CNBC via email that he expects second-quarter earnings from U.S.-based energy companies to be “significantly higher” when compared to the same period in 2020.
This is “mainly due to much higher oil prices,” he added. “In addition, the majors, large and mid-cap companies have kept capital discipline and have continued to focus on paying down debt and increasing free cash flow instead of increasing activity [drilling and completion] despite higher oil prices.”
Santos said S&P Global Platts Analytics also foresee an increase in the reporting of ESG activity, noting that it “looks like pressure from environmental groups and fear of more regulations from the current administration is persuading many companies to do more to decrease emissions.”
Growing climate risk
The oil and gas industry was sent into a tailspin last year as the coronavirus pandemic coincided with a historic fuel demand shock, plunging commodity prices, unprecedented write-downs and tens of thousands of job cuts. The torrent of bad news prompted the head of the International Energy Agency to suggest it may come to represent the worst year in the history of oil markets.
Oil prices have since rebounded to multi-year highs and all three of the world’s main forecasting agencies — OPEC, the IEA and the U.S. Energy Information Administration — now expect a demand-led recovery to pick up speed in the second half of 2021.
Clark Williams-Derry, energy finance analyst at IEEFA, a non-profit organization, said he expects oil and gas companies to try to claim a clean bill of health after a bumper second quarter. “That’s the mantra that we will hear,” he told CNBC via telephone.
However, while energy majors will likely have had the opportunity to pay down some debt after generating a significant chunk of cash from their operations, Williams-Derry said that this hides the fact that these companies have not invested much in future production.
“What I think the market is starting to signal is that it kind of likes when the oil companies shrink and aren’t going all out into new production but they are using the cash that their operations are generating to pay down debt and reward investors.”
Longer term, Williams-Derry warned there’s a “tremendous degree” of investor skepticism about the business models of oil and gas firms, citing the deepening climate crisis and the urgent need to pivot away from fossil fuels.
“We saw earlier in the year signs of a sea change in investor thinking about, frankly, the legal status of some of the supermajors,” he said, referring to a series of landmark courtroom and boardroom defeats for the likes of Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron.
“So, even if you are riding high for a quarter or two when prices are high, the reality is still that stock prices are way below the market as a whole and there’s just not the investor enthusiasm for the old business model that I think these companies probably expected to see,” he said.
Kathy Hipple, finance professor at Bard College in New York, told CNBC via email that she believes two key themes are likely to emerge this earnings season: Addressing investor concerns around climate risk and the outlining of new business models to survive a pivot toward renewables.
“Investors are future-oriented and will look past a short-term pop in earnings compared to last year’s dismal second-quarter results,” Hipple said. “They want to see concrete business strategies that acknowledge the energy transition that is gathering speed.”
She argued it was important to note that these earnings will be announced “against a backdrop of climate disasters around the globe,” from extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest to flooding in Europe and China.
“Oil companies that ignore climate in their earnings calls will be seen as laggards. Long-term investors will conclude they are financially risky,” Hipple said.
Avis has new T&Cs for renting its EVs, and they’re a little weird
Tesla Model 3 Source: Tesla
Car rental giant Avis just sent an email out today to its customers to let that it has new rental terms and conditions for its fleet EVs. Some of the company’s EV rules are a bit of a head scratcher.
Here’s what the email said:
As we introduce Electric Vehicles to our fleet, our rental terms have been amended. To accommodate our expanding vehicle inventory, this amends the agreement signed by you with respect to the rental of a vehicle powered by an electric motor (an “EV”). Our updated terms can be found here.
Note that these were sent out by Avis Canada, but the rental terms and conditions are for both the United States and Canada.
I’ve pasted the seven-plus points terms included in the EV section below, and my comments are after each point, in bolded italics:
39. ELECTRIC VEHICLE (EV) TERMS. This EV Amendment amends the rental agreement signed by you with respect to the rental of a vehicle powered by an electric motor (an “EV”) from Avis Rent A Car System, LLC, Aviscar, Inc., or any Avis Rent A Car System, LLC, affiliate, or the independent Avis Rent A Car System, LLC, licensee identified on the rental agreement (collectively referred to herein as “Avis”).
Boilerplate text. All good. Next.
1) AMENDMENT TO RENTAL AGREEMENT: This EV Amendment simultaneously amends the terms of your rental from Avis with respect to the terms herein only. All other terms of your rental remain in full force and effect. In the event of any conflict between the terms of this EV Amendment and your other rental terms, the terms of this EV Amendment shall govern.
More boilerplate. Nothing to see here.
2) ONE WAY RENTALS ARE NOT PERMITTED: Due to unique infrastructure needs associated with EV’s, your EV must be returned to your rental location on the date/time specified in your rental terms. If your EV is not returned to the renting location, all costs incurred in transporting your EV back to the renting location will be assessed to you. In addition, you will be assessed a fee for Avis’ loss of use of the EV between the time that you should have returned the EV to the renting location and the time that it is returned to the renting location up to a maximum of thirty (30) days. The loss of use fee will be your daily rental rate.
“Unique infrastructure needs.” LOL.
At the end of January, a couple of us at Electrek received a PR announcement announcing that Avis was launching a “significant number of EV charging stations at the George Bush International Airport in Houston” with EverCharge. The EV charging stations will “only be used by the Avis and Budget fleets of EVs and PHEVs available for rent” at Houston airport.
I asked, “How many EVs does Avis have for rent across the US, and which makes and models?” And got the reply: “Avis is not commenting on the specifics of its fleet at this time.”
Bummer, because Hertz sure is commenting, and with Tom Brady to boot.
I asked the spokesperson how many EV charging stations Avis is installing at Houston airport, and they wouldn’t tell me – they only said that both DC and Level 2 are being put in.
I asked what the rollout plan is for other North American airports, and got the reply:
Following the launch at the Houston airport, Avis and EverCharge plan to extend the partnership to additional airport locations this year.
So, based on the above information, it would appear that the reason why a car rental customer has to return the EV to the original rental location – in this case, airports – is because Avis doesn’t have enough EV charging infrastructure yet.
I get that this is a growing pains issue, but simply, it isn’t very practical. Not everyone returns to the place where they rented a car.
Maybe Avis should have installed more EV charging infrastructure before it rolled out its unknown quantity of EVs.
One can currently rent a Tesla Model 3 from Avis in seven US states – all in the West. It’s kind of silly that one can’t drive between those locations without having to return to home base.
3) BATTERY CHARGING LEVELS AT VEHICLE CHECK OUT: Avis will rent the EV with at least a 70% charge on the battery. The range of your EV will vary based on a number of factors including vehicle load, driver’s actions such as speed and acceleration, climate and terrain factors such as inclines. Avis does not warrant or guarantee the range of an EV.
Why 70%? The ideal topped-up charge level is 80%. If Avis has EV chargers at its rental locations, then it should charge them to 80%.
And Avis ought to print up a helpful document, or give renters a QR code, so they can read about why and how vehicle load, speed, and acceleration affect charge. Let’s not say there are factors without explaining them.
4) BATTERY CHARGING LEVELS AT VEHICLE RETURN: Your EV must be returned to Avis with a battery charge level of at least 70%. If returned at less than 70% but more than 10% battery charge level, a charging fee of $35 will be assessed to you. If returned with less than a 10% battery charge level, you will be assessed an additional low charge fee of $35 (a total of $70 charging fees if returned with a battery charge of less than 10%). The charging fee is based on the kilowatt hours, overhead, loss of use of the EV and administrative costs Avis incurs in charging the vehicle. Note: fees assessed in the United States refer to U.S. dollars and fees assessed in Canada refer to Canadian dollars.
A $35 car charging fee is a bit steep. Let’s say a driver returns the car with 50% charge – the amount of money to bring it to 70% would be around US $5 at the most.
An 80kwh Tesla battery x 20c/kwh (high estimate) = $16 assuming 0-100% charge.
But I guess this is like when you bring a gas car back empty without prior arrangements, and car rental companies charge you a really high fill-up fee. And if Avis has DC chargers, then they won’t have to wait long to charge up a car that has a battery charge level of less than 70%.
5) ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE: Roadside assistance is available for your EV but fuel cannot be delivered to EV’s. If you require roadside service because you depleted your EV’s batteries, your EV will be towed to your renting location and the towing expense will be assessed to you. If you require another vehicle due to a breakdown, you may be provided a gasoline powered vehicle in which case, all fuel provisions of your rental terms shall apply with respect to your replacement vehicle.
“Fuel cannot be delivered to EVs” – heehee. Love it. It would be cool if Avis invested in some mobile EV charging trucks to make up for the fact that they don’t actually have enough EV charging infrastructure yet to service their EV fleets.
Why can’t the EV be towed to the nearest Tesla Supercharger or Electrify America or similar? Why does it have to go all the way back to the renting location? What if the driver is on a road trip? This one definitely qualifies as weird. This may scare some people off who wanted to try an EV for the first time.
6) SPECIAL EV EQUIPMENT: All EV equipment including, but not limited to, charging equipment, keys, key cards, fobs and/or remote (“EV Equipment”) provided with your EV must be returned. The full replacement cost of any EV Equipment not returned with your EV will be charged to you. LDW, even if elected, does not cover EV Equipment.
Maybe this is a legal thing, but surely it would be common sense that keys, key cards, and fobs would have to be returned, much like any gas rental car? Perhaps Avis has experienced some customers throwing away key cards because they think they’re like hotel key cards? At any rate, I’d be pretty annoyed if I was an Avis employee and customers kept throwing away the key cards, so fair enough. Fobs is a bit of an overstretch. I guess they just had to mention them to cover backs.
7) UNIQUE TESLA TERMS: If you rented a Tesla EV, you will be able to access Tesla Superchargers, subject to availability, to recharge Tesla vehicles provided, however: 1) any fees, charges and/or costs to access and utilize the Tesla Superchargers shall be your responsibility; 2) any Tesla “idle fees”, as defined and charged by Tesla, shall be your responsibility (see Tesla’s website for details https://www.tesla.com/support/supercharger-idle-fee); and 3) the provisions of “Battery Charging Levels at Vehicle Return” shall continue to apply to you.
These are fair terms, because they’re essentially Tesla terms 101.
TESLA VEHICLES MAY NOT BE WASHED AT AN AUTOMATIC CAR WASH. ANY DAMAGE CAUSED BY AN AUTOMATIC CAR WASH SHALL BE ASSESSED TO YOU PURSUANT TO THE “DAMAGE/LOSS TO THE CAR” PROVISIONS OF YOUR RENTAL TERMS AND WILL NOT BE COVERED BY LDW.
I love the bold capital letters for the CAR WASH RULES. One can take Teslas through car washes, but only in touchless car washes. Teslas have Car Wash Mode.
Maybe Avis decided that putting its Teslas into Car Wash Mode is too complicated for its customers and too much like hard work for its reps to explain how to use the feature to every EV renter? It’s never occurred to me to take a rental car to a car wash, but I’m not fastidious with my cars. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this car wash thing in the comments below.
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Elon Musk found not guilty in the Tesla 420 take-private case
A jury has found Elon Musk not guilty in the case of his tweet about taking Tesla private at $420 a share.
5 years later, this single tweet is still haunting the Tesla CEO.
For those who don’t remember the situation, back in 2018, Musk briefly considered trying to bring Tesla private and disclosed that to investors through a simple tweet.
The Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) ruled that Musk exaggerated and misled shareholders when saying that the funding was “secured” in the tweet:
Musk went on a campaign against the SEC, calling them names and claiming that they were working for people shorting the electric automaker. But ultimately, Tesla and Musk ended up reaching a settlement with the SEC.
As part of the settlement, Musk agreed to step down from the role of chairman of the board, and Tesla and Musk had to each pay $20 million in fines.
The CEO presumably didn’t want Tesla to have to pay for his issue with the SEC. While he couldn’t directly pay for Tesla’s part of the fine, he decided to buy $20 million worth of shares from Tesla. That way, he sort of indirectly ended up paying for Tesla’s fine – though he also ended up with ~71,000 additional Tesla shares in the process.
As we previously reported, Musk ended up actually making money from the settlement due to Tesla’s stock price surging.
Another part of the settlement was that Musk and Tesla had to agree for the former to have his tweets reviewed by the latter’s legal department if they are material to the company.
Musk has consistently denied any wrongdoings and claimed he settled with the SEC under pressure from Tesla investors.
Separately, Tesla investors have sued Musk personally over the tweet – claiming that they were defrauded of millions of dollars as Musk exaggerated the claim that funding was secured.
The case was ongoing for years, but it was finally heard by a jury in Northern California last week.
Today, the jury released its verdict – finding Musk not liable for the investor’s losses.
Musk commented on the verdict:
Thank goodness, the wisdom of the people has prevailed! I am deeply appreciative of the jury’s unanimous finding of innocence in the Tesla 420 take-private case.
That’s probably the end of this saga – though Musk is still fighting some of the aspects of his settlement with the SEC, primarily the need to review his tweets material to Tesla’s stock.
That’s probably the right thing.
As we previously reported, all the evidence pointed to Musk being a bit too excited and jumping the gun with the tweet.
For him to be found liable, they would have to prove that he was intentionally planning to defraud investors and that’s a tall task.
He certainly should be more cautious about tweeting things like that when no deal has been signed, but I don’t think it’s fraud.
However, you’d hope that he would become more cautious about his tweeting after this entire saga, but we haven’t seen much evidence of that either.
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Jury find Musk, Tesla not liable in securities fraud trial following ‘funding secured’ tweets
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his security detail depart the company’s local office in Washington, January 27, 2023.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
Elon Musk and Tesla were found not liable by a jury in a San Francisco federal court on Friday in a class action securities fraud trial stemming from tweets Musk made in 2018.
The Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter CEO was sued by Tesla shareholders over a series of tweets he wrote in Aug. 2018 saying he had “funding secured” to take the automaker private for $420 per share, and that “investor support” for such a deal was “confirmed.” Trading in Tesla was halted after his tweets, and its share price remained volatile for weeks.
Jurors deliberated for less than two hours before reading their verdict. Plaintiffs’ attorneys told CNBC they were “disappointed with the verdict and considering next steps.”
“I am deeply appreciative of the jury’s unanimous finding,” Musk wrote on Twitter.
“He doesn’t think ahead of time in that rushed moment that this could be interpreted differently and what it means to him,” Musk’s attorney told the jury earlier on Friday. “In that moment he didn’t think, ‘how could my words be interpreted differently by you than it means to me.'”
“You have to assess this in context – he’s considering taking it private and the issue is will it actually take it forward,” Musk’s attorney said. “No fraud has ever been built on the back of a consideration.”
Musk’s lead counsel did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The shareholders in the certified class action lawsuit included a mix of stock and options buyers who allege that Musk’s tweets were reckless and false, and that relying on his statements to make decisions about when to buy or sell cost them significant amounts of money.
Musk later claimed that he had a verbal commitment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, and thought funding would come through at his proposed price based on a handshake. However, the deal never materialized.
During the course of this trial, Musk also said he would have sold shares of SpaceX to finance a going private deal for Tesla, as well as taking funds from the Saudi Public Investment Fund.
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