Shareholders to cash in as soaring energy prices inflate Shell's profits
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As prices surged, the group’s upstream unit was able to collect $8.88 for every thousand cubic feet of gas it sold to customers over the last quarter of 2021.
Just six months earlier gas had been selling for $4.31, less than half of its most recent level.
Meanwhile, winds in Europe were unusually still last summer, meaning more gas was needed to replace the electricity that would otherwise have been produced by wind turbines.
The price rises have led to energy suppliers going out of business, contributed to soaring inflation, and from April 1 households will be hit with a hike in energy bills of hundreds of pounds.
But for Shell, which remains a key North Sea player, the rises in gas prices, and an 18 per cent spike in the price at which its upstream business sold oil, helped propel it to a $16.3 billion (£12bn) pre-tax profit in the fourth quarter of last year, compared with just $1.2bn (£885.5 million) in the third quarter.
Chief executive Ben van Beurden said: “We delivered a very strong financial performance in 2021, and our financial strength and discipline underpin the transformation of our company.”
That transformation has included a move of Shell’s headquarters to the UK, a simplification of the company's previously confusing share structure, and the dropping of the Royal Dutch part of its name.
Officially the company formerly known as Royal Dutch Shell is now just Shell plc.
These bumper profits have given the firm the opportunity to treat its shareholders.
Combined with $5.5bn from the sale of a massive US oil field, the firm plans to return $8.5bn to investors by buying back their shares.
Shell’s adjusted earnings reached $19.2bn in 2021, more than four times its level a year earlier.
Van Beurden added: “We have ambitious plans to generate shareholder value, to decarbonise our products and to provide energy to our customers while respecting nature.”
Stuart Lamont, investment manager at Brewin Dolphin, said: “The rising oil price has lifted Royal Dutch Shell and the company’s results are significantly better than they were this time last year.
“Of course, shareholders will be mindful of the transition period ahead for Shell, as it looks to reduce its carbon emissions and reach net zero. However, for now, the company is in good shape, with the shares buoyed by a combination of its share buyback programme, dividend, and the commodity price.”
Jamie Maddock, equity research analyst at Quilter Cheviot, added: “All in all, this is a strong start to a new era for Shell.
“This is the first set of results that didn’t feature the ‘Royal Dutch’ brand, have a single line of stock and be tax domiciled in the UK.
“With the business undergoing a period of transition in response to the global demand for clean energy, it will be pleased with this set of results as it embarks on a new phase of its existence.”