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Page added on October 1, 2007

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Slow, Steady Liquidation of the World Oil Industry

Buybacks are the rage in the cash-laden oil industry. Exxon Mobil is buying back about $30 billion of its shares each year. If that continues, Exxon will have repurchased all its stock by about 2024.


This isn’t as absurd as it seems. Oil companies aren’t merely catering to a Wall Street enthralled with buybacks. While such repurchases increase the amount of earnings and assets behind the remaining shares in a company, the party for shareholders would end if assets and profits begin to fall.
And investor-owned oil companies — along with government- owned producers outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries — are only a few years away from going into decline.


By 2011 or so, these companies, including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc in the U.K., France’s Total SA and ConocoPhillips in the U.S., will no longer be able to increase their production, says Charles Maxwell, an analyst at Weeden & Co. in Greenwich, Connecticut.


By 2014, their output will begin a long decline, says Maxwell, who has been involved in the industry for 50 years, mostly as an analyst. “They’ll be in liquidation,” he says.


The industry isn’t finding new crude-oil reserves fast enough to keep up with world demand for gasoline and other fuels made from crude.


Right or wrong, oil executives hold back on exploration, insisting that the risk of finding and producing more — even with crude prices of $80 a barrel and more — is too great. Weeden’s Maxwell says the rule of thumb in the industry today is that $45 a barrel is about the breakeven point.


While Exxon Mobil will spend $21 billion this year on exploration and plant improvements, that’s considerably less than it will spend on buying back its shares.


This bodes ill for consuming nations that will become even more dependent on OPEC, many of whose members are politically inimical to them.

Bloomberg



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