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Oil giant Shell raises dividend and launches $2 billion share buyback as commodity prices soar

A Shell logo seen at a petrol station in London. A court in The Hague has ordered oil giant Shell to reduce its carbon emissions by 45% compared to 2019 levels by 2030, in what is widely seen as a landmark case.

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LONDON — Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell on Thursday reported stronger-than-expected second-quarter earnings, lending further support to the energy major’s plans to reduce net debt and reward investors.

The Anglo-Dutch company reported adjusted earnings of $5.5 billion for the three months through to the end of June. That compared with $638 million over the same period a year earlier and $3.2 billion for the first quarter of 2021.

Analysts had expected second-quarter adjusted earnings to come in at $5.1 billion, according to Refinitiv.

Shell boosted its dividend for the second consecutive quarter and announced the launch of a $2 billion share buyback program that it aims to complete by the end of the year.

The dividend rose to 24 cents in the second quarter, up 38% from the first three months of the year. It comes a year after the company moved to cut its dividend to shareholders for the first time since World War II.

“We have to make sure that our current shareholder base is pleased with what we do in terms of payouts,” Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Thursday, reflecting on the firm’s plans to step up its shareholder distributions.

“We have to have a strong cash generative business that also funds the company for the future, but at the same time we have to build a business that is future-proof.”

The results reflect a broader trend across the oil and gas industry, as energy majors seek to reassure investors they have gained a stable footing amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. France’s TotalEnergies and Norway’s Equinor have also announced share buyback programs.

Share prices of the world’s largest oil and gas majors have not yet followed an improvement in the earnings outlook, however, and the industry still faces a host of uncertainties and challenges.

Shares of Shell were up over 3% during morning trade in London. The oil and gas company has seen its stock price rise more than 17% year-to-date, having collapsed almost 45% in 2020.

Investor skepticism

Shell’s financial results come as oil and gas prices took another step up in recent months. International benchmark Brent crude futures rose to an average of $69 a barrel in the second quarter, up from an average of $61 in the first three months of the year. The oil contract was last seen trading at $75.38.

Oil prices have rebounded to reach multi-year highs in recent months and all three of the world’s main forecasting agencies — OPEC, the International Energy Agency and the U.S. Energy Information Administration — now expect a demand-led recovery to pick up speed in the second half of 2021.

It follows a year in which the head of the IEA had suggested may come to represent the worst in the history of oil markets. The oil and gas industry was sent into a tailspin in 2020 as the spread of Covid-19 coincided with a historic fuel demand shock, plunging commodity prices, unprecedented write-downs and tens of thousands of job cuts.

Ahead of this earnings season, analysts had warned that while energy companies were likely to try to claim a clean bill of health, investors were likely to harbor a “tremendous degree” of skepticism about the business models of oil and gas firms over the long term. This was predominantly a result of the deepening climate emergency and the urgent need to pivot away from fossil fuels.

Court ruling

Earlier this month, Shell confirmed its intention to appeal a landmark Dutch court ruling ordering the company to take much more aggressive action to drive down its carbon emissions.

“We agree urgent action is needed and we will accelerate our transition to net zero,” Shell’s van Beurden said in a statement on July 20. “But we will appeal because a court judgment, against a single company, is not effective.”

“What is needed is clear, ambitious policies that will drive fundamental change across the whole energy system,” he added.

Members of the environmental group MilieuDefensie celebrate the verdict of the Dutch environmental organisation’s case against Royal Dutch Shell Plc, outside the Palace of Justice courthouse in The Hague, Netherlands, on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. Shell was ordered by a Dutch court to slash its emissions harder and faster than planned, dealing a blow to the oil giant that could have far reaching consequences for the rest of the global fossil fuel industry.

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The Netherlands court ruled on May 26 that Shell must reduce its carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels. That’s a much higher reduction than the company’s current aim of lowering its emissions by 20% by 2030.

The court ruling also said Shell is responsible for its own carbon emissions and those of its suppliers, known as Scope 3 emissions.

The verdict was thought to be the first time in history a company has been legally obliged to align its policies with the Paris Agreement. The accord, ratified by nearly 200 countries in 2015, is seen as critically important in averting the worst effects of climate change.


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