From quarter to quarter, news headlines and other things can make us tend to overanalyze things, extrapolating the news of the day weeks and months into the future. For this reason, it can be a little refreshing to check in with ExxonMobil's (NYSE:XOM) earnings conference call. Despite whatever is happening in the market -- and the occasional less-than-stellar earnings report -- ExxonMobil's management remains consistent with its message to investors. The following five quotes provide a quick snapshot of what ExxonMobil's management had to say about this past quarter that helps remind us about the company's long-term goals.
Trimming the fat
ExxonMobil and all of its peers have zero control over the price of oil and gas. Even though ExxonMobil produces close to 2 million barrels per day of oil and about the same energy equivalent amount in natural gas, both represent less than 5% of global production. So the only thing the company can do to become more profitable in today's environment is to cut costs. Much as in its previous conference calls, Executive Vice President of Investor Relations Jeff Woodbury pointed out that the company has done just that this year:
[W]e are achieving significant market savings in the current business climate. So far this year, we've achieved a net reduction of $8 billion in capital and cash operating costs. And I'll note that this amount is in addition to the $4.5 billion decrease in planned 2015 capex relative to 2014 spend. Further in the upstream, unit costs were down about 10% year to date compared to last year.
LAter on in the call, Woodbury gave some additional color, saying that of that $8 billion, a little more than $1 billion was out of capital costs and the rest was operating cash expenses.
One thing that these savings haven't changed, though, is how the company plans to spend money in the coming years. As Woodbury explained to one analyst:
[O]ur capex guidance has not been changed. We're still seeing, have a guidance for this year to $34 billion in '16 and '17 below $34 billion. Of course, we'll provide an update in the analyst meeting in March. But as I alluded to last quarter, and you see in the savings that I talked about year to date, we are seeing substantial capital efficiencies on the capex side. We are running lower than our plan, and it is reasonable to extrapolate that to a year end number that will bring us below our $34 billion. And thinking forward, Doug, I'd also say that those type of efficiencies and improvements that we're capturing, including market savings and a stronger U.S. dollar, will be extrapolated forward into the 30 -- into the 2016 and 2017 programs.
So the final price tag for all of that spending may be lower thanks to lower long-term costs such as service contract rates, but so far it doesn't appear that ExxonMobil is planning any significant changes to the levels of development.
Keeping LNG locked in
Over the past year or so, the price of LNG on the open market has declined significantly thanks to a slew of new projects coming online and to some major buyers -- namely China -- that are cutting their demand outlook. For companies that have significant portions of its production sold on the spot market, this can lead to profitability issues, but Woodbury was sure to explain that this isn't the case for ExxonMobil:
I can generally tell you that it's a fairly low component of our portfolio. Remember, our LNG projects continue to be a key component of our portfolio. And it is a very important part of our margin generation. And as you may have heard us say in the past, that when we go to FID on these big multibillion-dollar complex LNG projects, we typically contract under long terms -- our LNG volumes, our proved LNG or proved reserves, with the very little bit left for spot.
When asked to clarify, Woodbury explained that less than 10% of LNG volumes for ExxonMobil are sold on the spot market. The contracts ExxonMobil signed aren't set in stone, but the company's size scale does give it a leg up at the negotiation table if those contracts were to be revised.
Risk is nothing new
Between the political and economic sanctions imposed on Russia's oil and gas industry, the potenital lifting of sanctions in Iran, ISIS' incursion into Northern Iraq, and a slew of other geopolitical events going on today, there is no shortage of people wondering how all of this could affect ExxonMobil and its peers. For ExxonMobil, this isn't anything new. From Woodbury:
[W]e're in the risk management business. There is a lot of risks that we deal with, one of them being the geopolitical risks, another one being the economic risks associated with many multi-year investment programs on these big multibillion-dollar investments. I wouldn't say that we're seeing a back off on interest by our typical partners in these type of investments. I would say that there -- there's clearly a desire for us to continue to be in a leadership role in a lot of these big investments. We think we've demonstrated our credibility, and I think that plays well, not only with the resource owner, but with the industry as a whole.
While brand may not mean much when it comes to filling up your gas pump, it does carry weight when it comes to finding a partner for a project, and it's hard to fine a company in the oil and gas space where brand carries more weight than ExxonMobil in this regard.
Stay the course
One thing that has always separated ExxonMobil from its peers is the company's persistence to investing though the cycles of the industry. It doesn't boost spending when times are good, nor does it make big cuts when cash is more scarce. So, just as in every other conference call the company has had for several years, Woodbury was quick to remind those on the call that ExxonMobil will continue this trend:
We are capturing real-time benefits through capital efficiency in our investment program. Those are structural improvements that we're capturing. Yes, there are market improvements that we're experiencing as well. But as we make the investment decisions, we test those investments across a very wide range of prices, including commodity prices. So -- and that's well within the current price environment. So the investments are very robust, resilient to a number of factors that can significantly influence them. And that positions us very well to continue a continuous investment program, not get the inefficiencies of the stop and the starts, obviously, underpinned by our financial capability, and allows us to further capture economic uplift in the current market climate.
It's a method that has worked for ExxonMobil for a least 100 years, and there doesn't appear to be any large reason to stop now.