Shell under growing pressure as fightback against activist investor dented by disappointing results
Shell was under growing pressure last night as the fightback against an activist investor was dented by disappointing results.
Shares in the oil giant fell 3.5 per cent after it posted third quarter profits of £3billion – four times higher than the same period last year but a long way short of the £3.9billion expected in the City.
The figures came as Shell bosses launched a forthright defence of the company following an attack by New York hedge fund Third Point, which has built up a £545m stake.
Fighting talk: Shell boss Ben van Beurden has always maintained that the only way to fund the company’s switch to green energy is to continue its oil and gas operations
The activist investor, led by financier Daniel Loeb, this week claimed Shell was trying to be ‘all things to all people’ by attempting to turn into a renewable energy group.
Third Point called for the group to be broken up into ‘multiple standalone companies’, separating its legacy oil and gas operations and renewable energy arms.
But Shell boss Ben van Beurden hit back. He has always maintained that the only way to fund the company’s switch to green energy is to continue its oil and gas operations.
Shell already has a big presence in the wind and solar industries – and bosses argue that the vast amounts of money they make from fossil fuels mean it will be able to capitalise on this expertise.
Van Beurden said: ‘The reality is that without companies like us, who are significant providers of energy, without our skills, our scope and scale to convert the energy system, the energy transition will be a whole lot more difficult and may not even happen at the pace needed.’
Echoing her boss, Shell finance chief Jessica Uhl also said splitting Shell into multiple companies would not work in practice. Uhl said: ‘We are an energy company that has been providing energy to the world for the last 120 years.
‘If you were to split that into component pieces, I think that can sound really interesting from a financial perspective.
‘But in terms of real solutions, I think that breaks down, and our ability to integrate and bring these different pieces of the puzzle together will be how we uniquely make a difference in the energy transition.’
Shell has been under fire from investors and campaigners for years and was recently forced by a Dutch court to commit to clearer and more ambitious green goals. The company has been pushed to speed up its switch to renewables at the same time as it has had to navigate the pandemic, which pummelled profits in 2020 and led to a dramatic two-thirds cut to its dividend in the first hack to its payout since the Second World War.
Alongside its third-quarter results yesterday, Shell announced it planned to slash two types of emissions in the next decade in a new 2030 climate target. It will ensure all emissions the company itself generates through its operations – extracting oil, for example – will be net zero carbon. But this leaves out the vast majority – or around 90 per cent – of its pollution, which comes from customers burning its products.
Shell produced around 3.1m barrels of oil a day in the third quarter. This is the equivalent of 3 per cent of global daily demand in 2019, before Covid struck.
Analysts had hoped that soaring oil and gas prices would boost Shell’s profits – but it also knocked a number of financial instruments called commodities derivatives contracts.
Shell took a hit of around £3.6billion as a result. The profit miss made investors nervous.
Shell was one of the biggest fallers on the Footsie last night, with shares closing down 3.5 per cent, or 61.4p, to 1706.6p. Rival BP – which releases its own results next week – fell 1.6 per cent, or 5.55p, to 352.05p.
SUMMIT COLD SHOULDER
Shell will not attend the Cop26 summit after the company was told it was ‘not welcome’, Ben van Beurden said.
Thousands of politicians and diplomats will descend on Glasgow for the UN’s two-week climate event from Sunday.
But Shell will not send any representatives. Boss Van Beurden said: ‘We were told we were not welcome so we will not be there.’
Reports suggest fossil fuel firms have not been given a formal role in the event, which aims to update plans to reduce carbon emissions. But the snub will raise questions about what role leaders want oil and gas groups to play in meeting climate change targets.