Jan 28, 2021 - Economy

Exxon is feeling the heat on climate change action

Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals

ExxonMobil, under pressure to boost financial performance and do more on climate change, says it's on the cusp of changes.

Driving the news: The oil giant said Wednesday it would soon update shareholders on plans to "build long-term, sustainable value," and new steps to commercialize tech that's "key to reducing emissions."

  • It came after investment group Engine No. 1 — which is pushing for changes in capital spending and climate posture — formally nominated four people to Exxon's board.

Why it matters: Exxon is feeling the heat.

  • The fight over its board makeup follows years of rocky financial performance, aggressive spending, and as the industry faces calls from investors, the public and governments to do more on climate.
  • Exxon, like other companies, has recently cut capital spending as the pandemic has hammered prices and demand. And it unveiled new targets for curbing emissions intensity last month.
  • But it remains under pressure as European-based majors are acting more aggressively to diversify (though oil and gas remain the dominant business lines for these companies on both sides of the Atlantic).

The intrigue: The Wall Street Journal reports Exxon is "is discussing adding one or more new directors to the board." It also reports Exxon's talks with the D.E. Shaw Group, another group of activist investors pushing for more disciplined spending and stronger emissions efforts. D.E. Shaw may support Exxon's plans, according to the piece.

What's next: Exxon reports fourth-quarter earnings on Tuesday, so we'll be looking for more info — at least hints — of its plans.

What we're watching: How this all plays out when shareholders vote at Exxon's annual meeting later this year.

  • Exxon says it has "engaged with Engine No. 1 since mid-December." But Engine No. 1's statement yesterday said Exxon has taken only "incremental steps in the face of financial and shareholder pressure."
  • The nominees include Anders Runevad, former CEO of wind turbine heavyweight Vestas, and Alexander Karsner, a strategist with X, the "moonshot factory" of Google parent Alphabet.
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