It’s been tough for US oil companies. And even tougher for their investors. The hero du jour is Marathon Oil.
Today afterhours it reported an eye-popping 48% plunge in revenues in the second quarter and a net loss of $386 million. To stem the bleeding, it slashed capital expenditures by 40% from the prior quarter. “Importantly,” as it said in the press release, it was able to reduce production costs in North America by over 30% per barrel of oil equivalent from a year ago. And it cut is general and administrative costs by more than 20%.
The key to survival in this environment of plunging revenues is conserving cash and slashing expenses, including “workforce reductions,” as the company calls them. And something else….
Marathon proudly said that its global production from continuing operations (excluding Libya) rose 6% from a year ago, with its US production soaring “nearly 30%.” And it’s not backing down either: Total company production would increase 5-7% year-over-year, with a 20% jump in production in the US.
Thus it joined the cacophonous chorus of oil and gas companies that have been bragging about production increases despite the oil glut, despite the oil price plunge, despite the mayhem in the oil markets, just when investors are desperately waiting for the ever elusive production cuts.
BP’s debacle is even worse. Last week, it announced a loss of $6.3 billion and warned of more layoffs to come. It raised the restructuring charges for those layoffs from $1 billion, put forward in December, to $1.5 billion. “We will continue to identify more opportunities for simplification and efficiency,” is how CEO Bob Dudley put it in perfect corporate-speak. And cuts are now coming at “a faster pace.”
Dozens of companies in the oil & gas sector have announced job cuts since last fall, with some of the global players, like Baker Hughes, pushing their layoff numbers into the low five-digits. It has been a relentless litany.
In its June Job Cut Report, Challenger found that US employers had announced 287,672 job cuts during the first half of 2015, up 17% from the same period in 2014, the worst first half since 2010. For a reason:
The first-half surge was due largely to the decline in oil prices, which rippled through the energy and industrial goods sectors. All told, the drop in oil prices was blamed for 69,582 job cuts in the first half of 2015. That is second only to the 86,978 job cuts attributed to “restructuring.”
But the announcements of global companies don’t always make clear how many of these cuts are going to happen in the US. And given the vast US economy, these energy-related job cuts don’t readily stick out in the various reports on the US employment situation.
ADP, in its National Employment Report today, guessed that the economy in July created 185,000 new jobs, including whatever jobs it destroyed in the energy sector. It disappointed those who’d expected 215,000. But that’s still quite a few jobs. And new unemployment claims have been bumping along multi-year lows. So nothing particularly alarming in these numbers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics figured that the number of jobs in “oil and gas extraction” peaked in October last year at 201,500 and has since fallen 4% to 193,200. Total employment in oil & gas extraction and support activities peaked at 538,000 and has since dropped 7%.
Among the nearly 142 million total non-farm jobs in the US, half a million oil & gas jobs isn’t a big portion. But for folks working in the sector, it’s a different story. On an anecdotal basis, it sounds like this (from David in Texas):
A friend’s son went to work for BP right out of college a couple of years ago for what to my friend was a shockingly high salary. At the moment, he’s still employed there, but we’ll see how long this lasts. Another friend’s son who worked for Baker Hughes has already been laid off.
This has been the pattern: a careful trickle of layoffs here and there, spread out over months, not the mass extinction of jobs that we saw during the Great Recession. And this strategy has one big side effect: by now, hardly anyone pays attention to it anymore.
Moody’s Analytics, in conjunction with the ADP National Employment Report, came up with its own estimates of the bloodletting. Chief economist Mark Zandi told reporters today that the oil & gas sector has been laying off 10,000 to 15,000 workers a month so far this year. Unless the price of oil suddenly experiences a miraculous recovery, layoffs would likely continue for the rest of the year at this rate, it said.
Alas, West Texas Intermediate is now in its eighth week in a row of declines. At $45.21 a barrel, the lowest since March 20, it’s just a hair from setting a new low for this oil bust. Not a whole lot stands in its way.
So if Moody’s estimate for the oil & gas sector pans out, it would translate into a range of 120,000 to 180,000 job cuts this year, in an industry that at the beginning of the year had barely over 500,000 jobs. At the upper end of the range, it would represent the elimination of 36% of the oil & gas jobs in the US. Though it doesn’t stick out in the national figures, it would be a true jobs massacre.
So the oil & gas sector isn’t exactly in a rosy environment, with a number of companies entering a “liquidity death spiral.” Read… Oil Re-Bloodies the “Smart Money”