The collapse of oil prices had a devastating impact on the earnings of many international oil companies during the first quarter of the year.
Brent crude averaged $32 in March while April was even worse at just $18 per barrel.
This suggests that the second quarter may be more difficult than the first. Neither does it bode well for future investment in key energy infrastructure as oil and gas companies slash their spending accordingly.
Lower oil prices and refining margins have resulted in losses for many of the industry’s big players, but not, it is worth noting, for Saudi Aramco.
Unlike many of its peers, it is less exposed to the collapse of oil prices and reduced global demand linked to the coronavirus pandemic because of its exceptional operational flexibility, low debt ratio, diversification of revenue streams and most importantly, the fact that it has the lowest production costs in the world.
This operational flexibility is indeed unique, allowing the world’s largest oil company to rapidly increase or decrease production as circumstances dictate.
It is less exposed to the collapse of oil prices and reduced global demand.
Months before the world had heard of COVID-19, Aramco demonstrated this resilience when it was able to swiftly restore production after a missile attack on its processing facility, the world’s largest, in Abqaiq.
More recently that operational flexibility was evident when the Kingdom swiftly cut production from a historical peak of 12.3 million barrels per day (bpd) in April to about 7.5 million bpd in June.
That demonstrated conclusively that the Kingdom remains the world’s only swing producer. Hand in glove with this operational flexibility is financial flexibility. The first quarter earnings of the world’s big oil companies show that Aramco remains the most profitable of all of them with a bottom line profit of some $16.7 billion. Many of its industry peers have had a much tougher time in adjusting to the new normal.
Russia’s largest producer, Rosneft, which once claimed it would turn a profit even with an oil price of $10, in fact reported a $2.1 billion loss — its first quarterly loss since 2012. Rosneft represents almost 40 percent of total Russian oil production.
While the unprecedented nature of the collapse in oil demand has affected every energy company, some will be hurt more than others. Investors should not lose sight of that as demand eventually starts to recover.
• Faisal Faeq is an energy and oil marketing adviser. He was formerly with OPEC and Saudi Aramco. Twitter:@faisalfaeq.