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February 12, 2021 10:30 AM, EST

US Oil Majors Downgraded by S&P on Climate Risk, Earnings

ExxonRichard Drew/Associated Press

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Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips had their credit ratings lowered after S&P Global Ratings followed through on its recent warning and revised the industry’s risk profile due to climate change and weak earnings.

The oil and gas producers’ ratings were cut one notch, S&P said in separate statements, and comes two weeks after the ratings company published a sector-wide report on the challenges posed by climate change.

The ratings decisions reflect “growing risks from energy transition due to climate change and carbon/GHG emissions, weak industry profitability and greater expected volatility in hydrocarbon fundamentals,” S&P said Feb. 11.

The downgrades come days after Big Oil posted its worst earnings in decades due to last year’s record crude-price drop. While the lower ratings won’t immediately affect companies’ access to credit or their cost of capital, it highlights the challenges faced by the industry as crude prices recover, especially concerning its approach to climate change.

The industry has taken several steps to work through the energy transition, but “we don’t see these strategies as providing material credit differentiation,” S&P said.

Stricter regulation and shifting demand patterns “will contribute to a more difficult operating environment for fossil fuel producers and will likely augment the risk of stranded assets and significant asset write-downs,” according to S&P.

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Brent crude futures, the international benchmark, have risen 17% this year amid rising optimism that the worst of COVID-19’s ravages are in the past and economic growth is poised to recover. But that wasn’t enough to sway S&P, which said its sees “greater expected volatility in hydrocarbon volatility.”

S&P cut Exxon’s long-term rating to AA- from AA with a negative outlook. Chevron was lowered to AA- from AA with a stable outlook. Conoco was reduced to A- from A with a stable outlook.

Exxon shares fell 2.5% to $49.84 at the close of trading in New York while Conoco and Chevron declined 1.7% and 0.5%, respectively. West Texas Intermediate dropped 1.2% to $57.96 a barrel at 4:43 p.m. in New York.

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