Europe seized market power while the US and China battled over trade in 2018.
As the world’s two biggest economies levied punishing tariffs against each other, impacting a range of commodities from LNG to petrochemicals to oil, countries including France, Spain, Poland and Norway moved quickly in 2018 to open their doors to increasing volumes of supplies, while also working to market their own resources.
A 31.6% rise in the annual average Brent crude oil price, to $71.31/b from $54.19/b in 2017, coupled with a narrowing of the spread between prices in the two major LNG markets also boosted Europe’s energy fortunes.
Amid the competing headwinds and tailwinds, scale mattered, as Royal Dutch Shell took the No. 1 spot in the 2019 S&P Global Top 250 ranking of energy companies, up 15 notches from the year before. In dethroning Irving, Texas-based ExxonMobil, which fell one spot to No. 2, the integrated oil and natural gas company (IOG) was atop the list for the first time since 2004. The 2019 list was based on data from 2018, including assets, revenue, profits and return on invested capital.
Global primary energy consumption grew at its fastest rate in almost a decade in 2018, led by natural gas and renewables, according to BP’s annual statistical review of world energy, issued in June 2019. Oil and coal consumption, as well as electricity generation, also advanced, although by modest margins. China, the US and India together accounted for more than two thirds of the global increase in energy demand, the report showed.
Chinese retaliatory tariffs on imports of US LNG forced trade flows to shift in the final quarter of 2018, and the impact continued in 2019 as the tariffs increased. In one snapshot of the impact, in the second quarter of 2019, no US LNG cargoes were delivered to China, versus nine during the same period in 2018 before the initial tariffs were imposed, S&P Global Platts Analytics trade flow data showed.
The result? Shipments to Spain, France and Chile helped pick up the slack as the US saw a 55% increase in overall worldwide export deliveries during the three-month period that ended June 30, 2019.
Aggregate LNG feedgas deliveries to US terminals
The global landscape – characterized by robust competition, volatile prices, shifting market fundamentals and geopolitical uncertainty – favored the majors in the 2019 rankings, with IOGs from the US, Europe, the Middle East and Africa taking nine of the top 10 spots. They benefited from deep pockets, vast portfolios and tentacles in multiple commodities. At No. 7, down four spots from No. 3 the year before, Houston-based Phillips 66, a refining and marketing company, took the remaining spot.
Coal India, at No. 43 versus No. 57 the previous year, saw the biggest return on invested capital globally, at 60%, and state-run China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., an IOG also known as Sinopec, generated the most revenues at $418.4 billion, although it fell a spot in the 2019 rankings to No. 10 from No. 9 the year before. ConocoPhillips, an exploration and production company based in Houston, was the biggest mover on the 2019 list among companies that were also on the 2018 list, jumping 161 spots to No. 12 from No. 173 in the 2018 rankings.
For its part, London-based BP, an IOG, came in at No. 16 in the 2019 rankings, up 24 spots from No. 40 the year before.
“It feels like the oil market rollercoaster will run for some time to come,” Spencer Dale, BP’s chief economist, said when the statistical review was released. “The gyrations in supply, together with a host of macroeconomic factors, including the festering trade dispute between the US and China, were reflected in oil prices, which trended higher through much of the year, before tumbling in the final quarter.”
Shell benefited from higher oil and gas prices, divesting non-core assets to allow more money to be spent on growth projects, and cutting its debt further, reducing borrowing costs, the company said in its annual report for 2018, issued in March 2019.
Those projects included the completion of a chemical plant expansion in China and the ahead-of-schedule start of production from a deepwater development in the US Gulf of Mexico, where it also announced two large discoveries.
It was boosted in the rankings by strong revenues, profits and assets, while it registered an 8% return on invested capital and a three-year compound growth rate of 13.6%.
Perhaps most significantly for Shell, the company expanded its LNG portfolio, backing with a 40% stake the LNG Canada export project in British Columbia that made a positive final investment decision in October 2018. In recent years, gas in general, and LNG in particular, has played a key role in Shell’s growth. Beyond Canada, Shell also is making significant investments in LNG export projects in the US, both as a developer and an offtaker.
France’s Total, which maintained its No. 8 spot in the 2019 rankings, was another European energy giant that got a lift from LNG.
It was a foundation customer at Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass LNG export facility in Louisiana and is a partner in Sempra Energy’s Cameron LNG export terminal, also in Louisiana. Overall, it registered a 7% return on invested capital in 2018 and a three-year compound growth rate of 8.7%.
With the help of an investment it made in May 2019 in the Freeport LNG export project, via the acquisition of Toshiba’s US LNG business and the Japanese company’s offtake obligations at the Texas facility, Total was expected to see a benefit in future rankings, giving Shell a run for its money in terms of dominance in the North American LNG space.
At No. 5 in the 2019 rankings, up nine spots from No. 14 on the 2018 list, Norway’s Equinor rounded out the European IOGs in the top 10. Formerly known as Statoil, the company has worked to broaden its global reach in commodities other than crude. Equinor posted an 11% return on invested capital in the 2019 rankings, up from 7% in the previous year’s rankings.
There were also three Russian companies – OJSC Lukoil, OJSC Gazprom and Surgutneftegas OJSC – and three US companies – which in addition to Phillips 66 and ExxonMobil included San Ramon, California-based Chevron in the 2019 top 10.
Chevron jumped seven spots to No. 6 in the 2019 rankings from No. 13 the previous year. The company was aided in 2018 by increasing its oil and gas production by more than 7%, posting its highest ever annual output. The IOG has been making significant investments in the Permian Basin, a prolific shale play that spans West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. While oil has been the main draw for drillers there, significant amounts of associated gas are being lifted too, providing another revenue stream to players such as Chevron.
“In 2018, we had takeaway capacity for oil and liquids that was more than sufficient, and we’ve already added more capacity this year,” CEO Michael Wirth told investors during a conference call in February 2019. “We are pleased with our position and leading performance in the Permian. In just two years, we’ve doubled our rig count, increased our resource base, decreased unit development and operating costs and more than doubled our production.”
Gas could play a larger role for Chevron in future rankings as it lost a bidding war in May 2019 for The Woodlands, Texas-based exploration and production firm Anadarko Petroleum, which instead agreed to be gobbled up by Occidental Petroleum.
Houston-based Cheniere Energy, the biggest LNG exporter in the US, was the fastest growing company in the world in the 2019 rankings for a second consecutive year, advancing to No. 166 from No. 242 in the previous year’s rankings.
The growth came as it ramped up production at Sabine Pass by bringing additional trains online. And the first two trains at its export terminal near Corpus Christi, Texas, were shipping cargoes in 2019, in what could portend a further boost in future rankings.
The growth made Cheniere the biggest individual consumer of gas in the US. That continued into 2019, with feedgas deliveries to its two facilities topping 5 Bcf/d during the second half of the year. As the year wound down, Cheniere was developing a mid-scale liquefaction expansion at its Texas terminal and was building a gas pipeline to boost takeaway capacity from the Midcontinent region in Oklahoma to downstream markets including the US Gulf Coast.
While Cheniere adjusted its strategy for shipping spot cargoes and looked beyond China due to the tariffs on imports of US LNG imposed by Beijing, it was managing to continue to find buyers in Europe and elsewhere and sign long-term offtake agreements.
It topped the 2019 fastest-growing list with a three-year compound growth rate of 209.4%, more than double the CGR of the second fastest-growing company in the rankings – Austin, Texas-based exploration and production firm Parsley Energy, which ranked No. 241 in 2019 after not making the previous year’s list.
Yancoal Australia, that country’s largest pure coal producer with five mines in operation and five others it manages, and Argentina’s YPF, an oil and gas exploration and production company that also operates in the refining and marketing sectors for gas and petroleum products, also registered among the top 50 fastest-growing companies in the 2019 rankings.
Yancoal, the sixth fastest-growing, posted a three-year compound growth rate of 54.3%, while YPF, the 11th fastest-growing, recorded a three-year CGR of 40.8%, bumping it up 34 spots to No. 95 in the overall rankings from No. 129 on the 2018 list. Yancoal was No. 161 in the 2019 overall rankings. It wasn’t in the Top 250 the previous year.
Electric utilities and power producers also fared well among the fastest-growing companies in the 2019 rankings.
Belgium’s Elia, which operates the country’s electric transmission system, notched a three-year compound growth rate of 32.7%, helping elevate it into the 2019 overall rankings at No. 245, while Thailand’s Electricity Generating Public Co., an independent power producer, scored a three-year compound growth rate of 30.7%, lifting it to No. 174 in the overall rankings from No. 243 a year earlier.
Elia’s growth was part of an effort to become a leading European energy company.
“In Belgium, we want to enhance our role as a European energy hub by further developing offshore activities, building additional interconnectors and upgrading the domestic grid,” Bernard Gustin, chairman of the group’s supervisory board, said in an April 2019 message to shareholders. “Our projects in Germany include the construction of the SuedOstLink, which will carry the growing volumes of renewable power generated in northern Germany to consumption centers in the south of the country, and the further expansion of offshore activities, like the development of the Westlich Adlergrund 2 cluster.”
IOGs dominated in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa in the 2019 rankings, but refining and marketing companies showed strength in Asia and the Pacific Rim.
Enterprise Products Partners, a midstream oil, gas and NGLs infrastructure operator based in Houston, was seventh among companies in the Americas and ranked No. 23 overall, after failing to make the list in 2018.
Along the US Gulf Coast, Enterprise’s connectivity to export markets, geared toward serving robust demand in Asia, was a growth driver.
In Brazil, meanwhile, Petrobras benefited from a surge in offshore production capacity installations in 2018, including several in the highly productive subsalt region. It was ninth among companies in the Americas on the 2019 list, good for No. 28 in the overall rankings, a 119-spot advance from No. 147 in the 2018 rankings.
Whether the jump will be short-lived is an open question, as Petrobras cut its 2019 crude and gas production forecast amid declines at mature onshore and shallow-water reservoirs.
Japan’s JXTG Holdings, a refining and marketing company, was seventh among companies in Asia and the Pacific Rim. But it slipped nine spots to No. 24 in the overall rankings from No. 15 in 2018, amid a decline in demand for fuel oil in Japan.
State-owned Indian Oil Corp., also a refining and marketing firm, notched the eighth spot among companies in Asia and the Pacific Rim. It, too, fell in the overall rankings, dropping 13 spots to No. 25 from No. 12 in 2018.
Italy’s Eni, an IOG, came in tenth among companies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, which was the same market position as in the 2018 list, although its overall ranking in 2019 improved five spots to No. 20 from the previous year.
A letter from senior executives to shareholders discussing the company’s performance in 2018 said the growth was aided by an overhaul of Eni’s business model that began in 2014 ahead of a downturn in oil markets. The company said its operations were more resilient to price volatility.
“The reloading of the exploration asset portfolio was made with the objective of expanding the geographic reach of our operations, targeting material assets with high working interests located in strategic areas,” the letter said.
Eni pinned future production growth in large part on new projects in several countries, including Mexico, Indonesia, Egypt and Angola. The company also had its hooks in the LNG sector in 2018, growing in that segment by adding 8.8 million mt/year of contracted volumes, up 70% compared with 2017. In Mozambique, Eni and ExxonMobil are developing the 15.2 million mt/year Rovuma LNG project, with a final investment decision expected by fall 2019.
In the power sector, increases in renewables consumption shifted the landscape.
Some utilities and system operators jumped in with additional investments in wind, solar and new equipment. Others, because of the uncertainty in the marketplace, shed renewables assets to focus on their core distribution businesses, which are often regulated and provide for more stable returns.
Germany’s E.ON, which runs one of the world’s largest investor-owned electric utility service providers, encountered some bumps adjusting to the dynamics.
It slid to No. 15 in the 2019 rankings from No. 4 the previous year, after rising in 2017 to No. 2 from No. 114 in 2016. E.ON’s assets fell in 2018 to $61 billion from $65.4 billion in 2017, while revenue plunged to $33.7 billion in 2018 from $45 billion the year before. Its return on invested capital was 20% in the 2018 rankings, higher than the 16% ROIC in the 2019 rankings.
According to BP’s annual statistical review, renewable power grew 14.5% worldwide in 2018, led by increases in solar and wind generation and contributions by China. But despite this, in E.ON’s view, the renewable energy business was increasingly exposed to market price risks and needed to interact with the wholesale market.
So, in March 2018, it announced an asset swap with German power producer RWE. Under the deal, E.ON would transfer substantially all of its renewables business to RWE, while in exchange it would acquire RWE’s 76.8% stake in energy provider Innogy. E.ON would keep Innogy’s network and retail businesses and focus on electricity distribution, while RWE would keep Innogy’s renewables businesses and focus on electricity production, with renewables complementing its fuel stack.
It was expected to take some time to see whether the new strategy reverses E.ON’s fortunes.
On the electricity generation side, meanwhile, global output rose by an above-average 3.7% in 2018, lifted by China (which accounted for more than half of the growth), India and the US, BP said. Coal continued to account for the largest share of power generation at 38%, while nuclear generation rose by 2.4%, its steepest growth since 2010, BP said.
The power sector trends had uneven results.
They helped independent US power producers AES, based in Arlington, Virginia, and NRG Energy, based in Princeton, New Jersey, and Houston. Both were among the top 50 biggest movers up the 2019 rankings.
On the flip side, Czech Republic’s CEZ, an electric utility, was among the biggest movers down the 2019 rankings, dropping 58 places to No. 154 from No. 96 in the 2018 list.
AES, which owns and operates power plants and delivers energy in 14 countries, rose 116 spots to No. 103 from No. 219 in the 2018 rankings, while NRG, which among other things owns 15 gas-fired power plants that produce almost 10,000 MW of electricity and one nuclear power plant with a capacity of over 1,100 MW, advanced 107 notches to No. 131 from No. 238 in the previous year’s rankings.
According to BP’s annual statistical review, renewable power grew 14.5% worldwide in 2018, led by increases in solar and wind generation and contributions by China
“We refocused our business on our core strengths of integrating retail and generation. We sold non-core assets or underperforming assets, and we rightsized our generation portfolio to better match our retail business,” NRG CEO Mauricio Gutierrez told analysts during a conference call in February 2019. “So the bottom line is this: our company today is stronger than it has ever been and what gets me excited is that the best is still yet to come. We’re now a streamlined cash flow machine that for the first time have the financial flexibility to create significant and sustainable shareholder value.”
Growth in the oil sector was driven in large part by expansion of petrochemicals facilities. BP’s statistical review pointed to products most closely related to petrochemicals, such as ethane, LPG and naphtha, accounting for around half of overall oil demand growth in 2018.
Middle Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia, invested heavily in downstream activities in 2018, including petrochemicals. In November 2018, Saudi Aramco pledged to invest $160 billion over 10 years on gas developments and said it planned to direct more feedstock into petrochemicals.
The company identified petrochemicals as a major source of future growth, and that was a key reason it moved to acquire government-controlled SABIC, the Middle East’s largest producer of plastics and chemicals.
Besides its efforts at home, Saudi Aramco has also been investing heavily in the US and promising renewed energy cooperation with Russia, partly involving petrochemicals.
The Aramco investment spree was expected to give a lift to other energy companies with ties to the NGLs and petrochemicals industries, though in the 2019 rankings moves were uneven.
A SABIC-ExxonMobil partnership is developing a steam cracker near Corpus Christi, Texas, that would add about 160,000 b/d of ethane demand to the market. SABIC also has two petrochemical manufacturing joint ventures in Louisiana, one with Total and the other with ties to Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams.
While ExxonMobil and Total mostly held their own in the 2019 rankings, Williams, a major operator of gas pipelines, fell 137 spots to No. 198 from No. 61 the previous year.
In May 2019, Aramco reached a preliminary deal to take a 25% stake in Sempra’s proposed Port Arthur LNG export project – which would be the state-owned oil company’s first direct investment in a US LNG facility. Sempra, a San Diego-based energy provider, jumped 72 rungs to No. 90 in the 2019 rankings from No. 162 the previous year.
Aramco in 2019 expressed interest in taking part in Novatek’s growing LNG production in the Russian Arctic, though it may have missed out on the next project to be developed there – Arctic LNG 2 – when Novatek sold minority stakes to Chinese and Japanese investors. Novatek moved up nine spots to No. 51 in the 2019 rankings from No. 60 in 2018.
The momentum many of the companies in the 2019 rankings were seeing, and the fortunes of those that had declines, could be impacted in the future by how and when the US-China trade war is resolved.
In 2018, both countries imposed 10% tariffs on imports of certain goods the other produces, and in 2019, tariffs were raised to 25% on certain goods.
The conflict, which continued into the second half of 2019, was consequential for the LNG sector, but it also affected the oil sector, as traditional LNG contracts have been linked to oil prices.
Growing flexible US volumes are expected to reinforce global interconnectivity in the future, reducing overall voyage lengths, lowering delivery costs and creating an environment favorable for the development of spot and risk markets.
By the late 2020s, China is expected to become the world’s largest importer of LNG. US exporters well into 2019 were negotiating for a sizable chunk of the Chinese import market to support the construction of new liquefaction facilities along the Gulf Coast. The longer the tariffs remain in place, the more challenging it was expected to be for new projects to get off the ground.
During the latter part of 2018 and into 2019, the spread between LNG netbacks to the US from hubs in Asia and Europe narrowed, Platts Analytics data show. That provided another reason for offtakers and portfolio players to take cargoes to points in Europe over China, portending perhaps another good showing for European diversified energy companies in the 2020 rankings.
Top 250 Methodology
This annual survey of global energy companies by S&P Global Platts measures companies’ financial performance using four key metrics: asset worth, revenues, profits, and return on invested capital.
All companies on the list have assets greater than US $5.5 billion. The fundamental and market data comes from a database compiled and maintained by S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Energy companies were grouped according to their S&P Global Primary Industry Classification code. Each company is assigned to an industry according to the definition of its principal business activity.
Because the survey is global, and because all countries do not share a common financial reporting standard, the information presented is for each company’s most current reporting period. Since then, material changes to a company’s financial health may have occurred. Data for US companies came from Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10K.
The company rankings are derived using a special S&P Global Platts formula. We added each company’s numerical ranking for asset worth, revenues, profits, and ROIC and assigned a rank of 1 to the company with the lowest total, 2 to the company with the second-lowest total, and so on.
Finally, ROIC figures-widely regarded as a driver of cash flow and value were calculated using the following equation: ROIC = [(Income before extraordinary items) - (Available for common stock)] ÷ (Total invested capital) x 100 where “Income before extraordinary items” is net income less preferred dividends and “Total invested capital” is the sum of total debt, preferred stock (value), noncontrolling interest, and total common equity.
Financial data were compiled and translated into USD on June 4, 2019.