Big Oil Faces 20% Drop in 2015 Cash Flows

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If Moody’s Investors Service is right, the world’s largest oil companies will experience a contraction of 20% in their cash flows in 2015. The conclusion is based expectations of continued revenue declines and negative free cash flow for the rest of this year.

Despite cuts to capital spending and other cost-cutting, Moody’s still expects the industry to face a negative free cash flow position of nearly $80 billion in 2015, compared with $26 billion in 2014. The ratings agency’s outlook for the global integrated oil and gas industry remains negative into next year.

The companies Moody’s is talking about are Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM), Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX), BP PLC (NYSE: BP) and the other massive companies that still maintain both exploration and production divisions as well as refining operations. The ratings firm said:

Moody’s expects that the industry’s total debt load will increase, with cash balances declining as companies sell assets to cover dividends and capital spending, although most companies have resisted dividend cuts so far. While some companies such as Shell, Chevron and Statoil face sizeable debt increases, most players are well positioned to absorb a rise in leverage. Many are also pursuing sizeable asset sales to cover the cash flow gap and enhance capital discipline.

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Notice that part about selling assets to cover dividends and capex? That could cool the enthusiasm we’re seeing for some of these stocks because they do pay handsome yields. Exxon, for example, pays a dividend yield of just of 4%, while Chevron’s yield is currently 5.65%, both primarily due to sharp drops in the share price. BP’s dividend yield is a whopping 7.74%, while Statoil ASA (NYSE: STO) pays a dividend yield of nearly 6% and Royal Dutch Shell PLC (NYSE: RDS-B) pays 5.3%.

Moody’s also expects Big Oil to reduce capital spending beyond the cuts already taken, likely followed by sharper reductions next year. The oil companies continue to rephase, defer and cancel high-cost projects as prospects remain dim for price recovery in 2016. Moody’s adds:

Inflationary pressures and high industry costs are starting to adjust to lower oil and gas prices, with operating costs and margins expected to normalise by mid-to-late 2016. The integrated oil companies are focused on operating costs and staff reductions and have pricing power in an oversupplied market to capture lower rig day rates and supply chain and other efficiencies to bring down costs.

Some of the shortfall in revenues will be made up by refining profits and chemical sales. But not anywhere near all the losses. All the companies are really too big to fail, but none is too big to dodge getting slapped around a little if a dividend is cut.

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