Shell dives to USD18.1B loss on virus-hit oil market

LONDON (AFP) – Anglo-Dutch energy major Royal Dutch Shell posted yesterday a colossal net loss of USD18.1 billion (EUR15.4 billion) for the second quarter, blaming massive asset writedowns on the coronavirus-hit oil market, and flagged that job cuts are on the way.

The performance, contrasting sharply with profit after tax of USD3 billion a year earlier, was sparked by a huge USD16.8-billion charge on chronic fallout both from COVID-19 and collapsing oil prices.

The vast charge was taken “as a result of revised medium- and long-term price and refining margin outlook assumptions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and macroeconomic conditions as well as energy market demand and supply fundamentals,” Shell said in a results statement.

The dire performance meanwhile reflected lower prices for oil, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and gas, while it was also adversely impacted by lower refining margins and oil products sales volumes.

Production dipped six per cent to 3.4 million barrels of oil equivalent per day in the reporting period – and is forecast to drop further in the third quarter.

A car leaves a Shell station in Sacramento, United States. PHOTO: AP

“Shell has delivered resilient cash flow in a remarkably challenging environment,” said Chief Executive Ben van Beurden in yesterday’s statement. “We continue to focus on safe and reliable operations and our decisive cash preservation measures will underpin the strengthening of our balance sheet.”

And he indicated that job cuts could be on the way in the coming months.

“We will probably see a resizing,” van Beurden told reporters on a conference call when asked about cutbacks.

“We will end up with fewer people. After the summer it’ll be the time to see what comes out in terms of headcount.”

Shell had forecast in June that it would face a charge of between USD15 billion and USD22 billion in the second quarter, after crude futures had suffered a spectacular crash on COVID-19 fallout, the Saudi-Russia price war and oversupply.

Both Shell and British rival BP, which reports its earnings next week, have opted to book charges in the second quarter on sustained coronavirus fallout that ravaged the world’s appetite for crude oil.

Shell had already plunged into the red in the first quarter on the oil price crash, which prompted it to cut its shareholder dividend for the first time since the 1940s.

COVID-19 also slammed the brakes on the global economy and savaged oil-intensive industries. The deadly outbreak also sent oil prices off a cliff from March onwards – and even caused them briefly to turn negative in April.

Prices have since rebounded sharply on an easing global crude supply glut and as governments relax lockdowns and businesses slowly reopen.

Crude futures currently stand at about USD40 per barrel, which is still well down on the same stage last year.

BP, which is axing around 10,000 jobs or 15 per cent of its global workforce in response to virus turmoil, decided in June to sell its petrochemical business to privately owned rival Ineos for USD5.0 billion to bolster its finances.

Shell has yet to take such drastic action, but announced in March that it will cut operating costs by USD3.0-4.0 billion over 12 months, and reduce its annual spending by one-fifth to USD20 billion.