Profiting From The Efforts Of Climate Extremists

Last week was hailed as a big victory for climate activists. In a 1-2-3 punch on Wednesday, a Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) to further reduce emissions from its products; Exxon Mobil (XOM) shareholders elected two new directors proposed by an activist hedge fund against management’s recommendation; Chevron (CVX) shareholders approved a proposal to reduce emissions caused by its customers. 

All three companies will become less invested in future oil and gas production than they were previously. For those who regard energy companies as the cause of global warming, rather than the billions of individuals who buy their products, Wednesday’s three events were a watershed. 

Vanguard, Blackrock and State Street are XOM’s three biggest shareholders and also members of the Net Zero Managers Initiative which is committed to “net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner.” It’s often believed that you can do well by doing good, and a popular narrative is that ESG funds are delivering good returns because ESG-oriented companies deliver better operating performance.  

The biggest ESG fund (ESGU), run by Blackrock, is imperceptibly different from the S&P500 (see Pipelines Are ESG). XOM and CVX are both holdings in ESGU. Blackrock’s ESG definition is flexible, like most proponents. Lockheed Martin is a perennial member of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, so pretty much every company claims ESG-ness. Big natural gas pipeline corporations really are ESG, since they are helping displace coal for power generation in the U.S.  

Engine No 1, the activist shareholder in XOM, argued that the company was risking its very existence by continuing to provide the world with oil and gas. This is a non-ESG view based on an assessment of the company’s business prospects, but conveniently aligned with the climate change goals of its three biggest shareholders. XOM will presumably now chart a course that directs more investment to renewables.  

CEO Darren Woods clearly wants to keep his job – he has welcomed the new board members, even though in the past he’s questioned XOM’s strategic advantage in pursuing renewables. The business of fossil fuel extraction, processing and distribution (geology, refining, petrochemicals, retail gasoline) would seem to offer few synergies with building solar farms and windmills. Woods has in the past noted that they have little more than money to offer to such efforts.  

Perversely, all three developments from last week make the rest of the energy business more attractive. Future supply will grow less than it would have, while demand will continue to be led higher by emerging economies in Asia and elsewhere. Oil and gas prices will likely drift higher. All the focus of climate extremists is on supply, not demand. Consumers are far less susceptible to changing their behavior in support of reduced emissions. 

Based on how all three stocks reacted, these developments were not enthusiastically received. Shifting investments away from what these companies know to new areas with very different economics isn’t a compelling way to drive higher returns. The real winners are likely to be privately-held oil and gas producers, and OPEC nations who will welcome the increased market share at higher prices that last week promises.  

XOM, CVX and RDS all finished down for the week, lagging crude oil which is usually a reliable barometer of energy sector sentiment. They were also outperformed by North American pipelines, as represented by the American Energy Independence Index (AEITR).  

In the same week Tellurian (TELL) announced a ten-year agreement to sell liquified natural gas to Gunvor, a commodities firm. It shows that demand for natural gas remains strong. Privately-held Gunvor is relatively immune to climate extremists and must regard the strategy shifts forced on the three companies as vindicating their deal. But they and TELL can also claim to be constructively lowering CO2 emissions – without the natural gas they’ll be providing to customers in Asia, it’s likely more coal would be burned to meet the region’s growing demand for electricity. Switching from coal to natural gas is the most effective way for the world to reduce emissions, as America has demonstrated for the past decade.  

As shareholder-activists and litigants force uncommercial strategies on energy companies, it is creating profitable investment opportunities elsewhere in the energy sector. If supply is constrained too far, much higher prices will cause demand destruction and improve the relative pricing of renewables. But it looks increasingly likely we are heading into a Goldilocks period – growth capex sufficiently reduced to boost free cash flow and cause higher prices, but still enough supply to stop prices from spiking ruinously. The key will be to invest where activists don’t, so as to profit from their efforts. 

We are invested in TELL and all the components of the American Energy Independence Index via the ETF that seeks to track its performance.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Important Disclosures

The information provided is for informational purposes only and investors should determine for themselves whether a particular service, security or product is suitable for their investment needs. The information contained herein is not complete, may not be current, is subject to change, and is subject to, and qualified in its entirety by, the more complete disclosures, risk factors and other terms that are contained in the disclosure, prospectus, and offering. Certain information herein has been obtained from third party sources and, although believed to be reliable, has not been independently verified and its accuracy or completeness cannot be guaranteed. No representation is made with respect to the accuracy,  completeness or timeliness of this information. Nothing provided on this site constitutes tax advice. Individuals should seek the advice of their own tax advisor for specific information regarding tax consequences of investments.  Investments in securities entail risk and are not suitable for all investors. This site is not a recommendation nor an offer to sell (or solicitation of an offer to buy) securities in the United States or in any other jurisdiction.

References to indexes and benchmarks are hypothetical illustrations of aggregate returns and do not reflect the performance of any actual investment. Investors cannot invest in an index and do not reflect the deduction of the advisor’s fees or other trading expenses. There can be no assurance that current investments will be profitable. Actual realized returns will depend on, among other factors, the value of assets and market conditions at the time of disposition, any related transaction costs, and the timing of the purchase. Indexes and benchmarks may not directly correlate or only partially relate to portfolios managed by SL Advisors as they have different underlying investments and may use different strategies or have different objectives than portfolios managed by SL Advisors (e.g. The Alerian index is a group MLP securities in the oil and gas industries. Portfolios may not include the same investments that are included in the Alerian Index. The S & P Index does not directly relate to investment strategies managed by SL Advisers.)

This site may contain forward-looking statements relating to the objectives, opportunities, and the future performance of the U.S. market generally. Forward-looking statements may be identified by the use of such words as; “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “should,” “planned,” “estimated,” “potential” and other similar terms. Examples of forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, estimates with respect to financial condition, results of operations, and success or lack of success of any particular investment strategy. All are subject to various factors, including, but not limited to general and local economic conditions, changing levels of competition within certain industries and markets, changes in interest rates, changes in legislation or regulation, and other economic, competitive, governmental, regulatory and technological factors affecting a portfolio’s operations that could cause actual results to differ materially from projected results. Such statements are forward-looking in nature and involves a number of known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, and accordingly, actual results may differ materially from those reflected or contemplated in such forward-looking statements. Prospective investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements or examples. None of SL Advisors LLC or any of its affiliates or principals nor any other individual or entity assumes any obligation to update any forward-looking statements as a result of new information, subsequent events or any other circumstances. All statements made herein speak only as of the date that they were made. r

Certain hyperlinks or referenced websites on the Site, if any, are for your convenience and forward you to third parties’ websites, which generally are recognized by their top level domain name. Any descriptions of, references to, or links to other products, publications or services does not constitute an endorsement, authorization, sponsorship by or affiliation with SL Advisors LLC with respect to any linked site or its sponsor, unless expressly stated by SL Advisors LLC. Any such information, products or sites have not necessarily been reviewed by SL Advisors LLC and are provided or maintained by third parties over whom SL Advisors LLC exercise no control. SL Advisors LLC expressly disclaim any responsibility for the content, the accuracy of the information, and/or quality of products or services provided by or advertised on these third-party sites.

All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that any specific investment will be suitable or profitable for a client’s investment portfolio.

Past performance of the American Energy Independence Index is not indicative of future returns.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
1 reply

    At various EIC conferences last week, several midstream infrastructure company senior managements stated in response to my questions that returns on capital on projects favored by ESG advocates were not positive in the near term and capital would not be expended on them until they could be rationally positive. For example, hydrogen was generally thought to be a post 2025 project. However, there were very positive feelings expressed enthusiastically about the future of natural gas and its derivatives (LNG, NGLs, LPG, petrochemicals) for the foreseeable future.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.