Oil major Shell reports sharp upswing in full-year profit, raises dividend and buybacks

Shell petrol station logo on Sept. 29, 2021 in Birmingham, United Kingdom.

Mike Kemp | In Pictures | Getty Images

Oil giant Shell on Thursday reported a sharp upswing in full-year profit, beating analyst expectations on rebounding commodity prices.

The British oil major posted adjusted earnings of $19.29 billion for the full-year 2021. That compared with a profit of $4.85 billion the previous year. Analysts polled by Refinitiv had expected full-year 2021 net profit to come in at $17.8 billion.

For the final quarter of 2021, Shell reported adjusted earnings of $6.4 billion.

Shell CEO Ben van Beurden described 2021 as a “momentous year” for the company and said progress made in the last 12 months would enable the firm “to be bolder and move faster.”

“We delivered very strong financial performance in 2021, and our financial strength and discipline underpin the transformation of our company,” he added.

Shell also announced an $8.5 billion share buyback program in the first half of 2022 and said it expects to increase its dividend by 4% to $0.25 per share in the first quarter. Share buybacks totaled $3.5 billion in 2021.

Net debt was reduced to $52.6 billion by the end of 2021, a fall of $23 billion when compared to 2020.

Longer-term threats

Global oil demand roared back in 2021, with gasoline and diesel use surging as consumers resumed travel and business activity recovered amid the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, the International Energy Agency has noted mobility indicators remain robust even as Covid-19 is once again causing record infections.

It marks a dramatic shift from 2020 when the oil and gas industry endured a dreadful 12 months by virtually every measure.

Shares of Shell rose 1.3% during mid-morning deals in London. The firm’s stock price is up over 20% year-to-date but remains below pre-pandemic levels.

Earlier this month, Shell said in a trading update that it would pursue its share buyback program “at pace” after selling its Permian shale business in the U.S. The decision was taken at the company’s first board meeting held in the U.K. at the end of last year.

A gas pump is seen in a car at a Shell gas station in Washington, D.C., May 15, 2021.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

Shareholders of Shell voted on Dec. 10 to approve plans for the company to simplify its share structure and shift its tax residence to the U.K. from the Netherlands. The oil major also officially dropped “Royal Dutch” from its name, part of its identity since 1907.

“Income, earnings and cash flow are all in much better shape than they were a year ago, mainly due to improved demand which has lifted the price of oil,” Mark Crouch, analyst at investment platform eToro, said in a note. “That has allowed Shell to initiate a major dividend and buyback programme.”

He added: “Shorter-term, we see continued strength in the oil price, which will have a positive effect on oil companies; however, of course, the threat longer term will be Shell’s ability to become a major player in the post-carbon energy world.”

Activist pressure

Energy majors are seeking to reassure investors they have gained a more stable footing two years after Covid-19 first shook markets, and as shareholders and activists pile pressure on the firm’s executives to take meaningful climate action.

The world’s largest oil and gas companies have all sought to strengthen their climate targets in recent years, but so far none have given investors confidence their business model is fully aligned to Paris Agreement targets.

To be sure, it is the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and gas that is the chief driver of the climate emergency.

Shell has outlined plans to become a net-zero carbon emissions company by 2050, although Climate Action 100+, the influential investor group, finds the firm’s targets only partially align with the Paris Agreement.

In a landmark ruling last year, a Dutch court ordered the oil major to take much more aggressive action to drive down its carbon emissions. Shell was ruled to be responsible for its own carbon emissions and those of its suppliers, known as Scope 3 emissions, and must reduce its emissions by 45% by 2030.

It was thought to be the first time in history a company has been legally obliged to align its policies with the Paris Agreement.

Shell is appealing the ruling, a move that has been sharply criticized by climate activists.

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