Pumped

From Exxon to Valero, oil big shots are expected to rake in historically huge profits — but the gassy golden age may be over

Monday, July 25, 2022 by Robinhood Snacks |
The end of oil’s golden age? (Barry Lewis/InPictures via Getty Images)

The end of oil’s golden age? (Barry Lewis/InPictures via Getty Images)

When $6/gallon sounds like a steal... you know the pump anxiety is real. US fuel producers are on track to rake in record cash windfalls. The largest independent oil refiners — Valero, Marathon Petroleum, and Phillips 66 — are poised to collectively make $14B from refining this quarter. Oil biggies like Valero start reporting this week, and the expected profit margins are wild:

  • Exxon, which reports Friday, said its fuel profits could balloon to $4.4B. Compare that to an average profit of less than $860M for the same quarter from 2017 to 2019. Thanks to fuel prices, Exxon forecasts that total earnings could hit $18B — which would be its most profitable quarter in decades.
  • Chevron, which also reports Friday, is expected to have profit nearly triple from the year-ago quarter. In the first quarter, its earnings more than quadrupled.

But oily profit could be peaking... or may’ve already peaked. Summer is usually a busy driving season, but jaw-dropping gas prices are starting to keep Americans off the road. Drivers pumped 10% less fuel in the week ended July 9 compared to last year. Meanwhile, refineries are cranking at full capacity.

  • Less demand + more gas supply = shrinking profits for gas giants. Case in point: gas prices have dropped for 30 days straight.
  • Everything’s relative. Since refining capacity was drastically slashed mid-pandemic, inventories are still relatively low, and prices are still relatively high.
THE TAKEAWAY

A recession could tank gas prices… And if the US isn’t already in one, it likely will be soon. Higher supply and lower demand are already pushing down gas prices — but a recession could tank them. Oil fuels the wheels of economic activity, and suffers when it slows: an economic downturn means less traveling, less spending, and less manufacturing. But for this year at least, refiners are on track for some banner profits.