Big Oil’s Blockbuster $114 Billion Investor Payout Is Most Ever

(Bloomberg) -- Oil supermajors returned more cash to shareholders than ever before last year as management teams reined in spending on new projects to free up cash for dividends and buybacks. There may be more to come.

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Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., Shell Plc, TotalEnergies SE and BP Plc spent $113.8 billion on 2023 dividends and share repurchases despite a slump in crude prices. The outlays were more than 10% higher than a year earlier, when Russian’s invasion of Ukraine threw global energy markets into disarray, swelling oil-industry profits.

The 2023 cash return was 76% higher than the average payout during the industry’s 2011-2014 heyday, when crude hovered above the $100 mark and the supermajors dominated major equity indexes.

Oil CEOs are aggressively expanding share buybacks in a bid to resuscitate stock valuations trading 40% or more below the broader market. The companies have cut back spending on major developments since the Covid-19 pandemic, partly due to concerns about glutting markets and also to free up cash for dividends and buybacks.

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But investors so far appear largely unconvinced, with Big Tech trading at double the valuation. Oil-industry cash flows are widely regarded as cyclical, too reliant on OPEC diktats and under threat from the nascent transition away from fossil fuels.

Big Oil wants to convince investors otherwise. Executives at all five supermajors indicated they may pay out even more this year, so long as commodity prices stay healthy.

--With assistance from Tom Contiliano.

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