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Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals

The just-concluded Big Oil earnings season highlighted two things at once: The sector's on far more solid footing than last year, but still faces big headwinds.

Driving the news: BP's stock rose 7% Tuesday after it reported a $2.8 billion Q2 profit after losing $6.7 billion that period last year, and announced higher dividends and new share buybacks.

  • Shell and TotalEnergies saw increases after they reported multibillion-dollar earnings last week alongside new plans to return more cash to shareholders.
  • U.S.-based Exxon ($4.7 billion compared to a $1.1 billion loss this period last year) and Chevron ($3.1 billion compared to an $8.3 billion loss in Q2 2020) saw little movement despite profit reports Friday.
  • For the U.S. giants, it's "a sign that winning back investors remains an uphill fight," the Financial Times reports. Of note: Chevron unveiled new buybacks and Exxon didn't.
  • CNN points to the uncertainties facing the majors in this piece.

Where it stands: Overall, the last two quarters show that Big Oil has recovered significantly from the pandemic that brought huge losses during 2020.

  • But their limited share price movement is one sign that the industry still faces challenges.
  • The near-term future is clouded by the spread of the Delta variant, which could slow the demand recovery. The oil price recovery has been losing ground in recent days.
  • Looking further out, the majors' ability to navigate the global move to lower-carbon energy is another question mark — and one that varies by company as they employ different strategies.

The big picture: "The fundamentals are improving, but it’s possible that that COVID-related demand concerns and longer term questions related to the energy transition are playing a role in the investor response," Ben Cahill, an oil expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said via email.

  • OK, sure, any snapshot of share price movements, like the six-month window above, is an incomplete story.
  • For instance, zoom out a little further and Exxon's up 40% this year, but still nowhere near its mid-2010s salad days, while the other giants are also well below prior peaks.

What they're saying: Oil analyst Ellen Wald cited several things keeping investors hesitant despite a recovery in prices and profits.

  • "Part of it may have to do with money-managers' reluctance to invest in oil for environmental reasons, which is compounded by non-environmentally motivated investors who simply don't want to buy into stocks that they don't think others will buy," she said via email.
  • While huge pension funds are still significantly invested in oil companies despite fund managers' climate pledges, Wald notes the perception of share dumps could be making investors wary.

Turning to market fundamentals, she said that "investors may see this as the peak for oil prices," due to more OPEC+ barrels arriving and COVID hitting demand anew.

Go deeper

Coast guard: California oil pipeline may have been dragged by cargo ship

Shoreline cleanup crews pick up tar balls that have washed ashore along the beach at Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach on Oct. 14. Photo: Mark Rightmire/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Investigators seeking the cause of the massive California oil spill said Sunday that the pipeline at the center of the leak may have been dragged along the ocean floor by a 1,200-foot cargo ship months before, AP reports.

Driving the news: The Panama-registered MSC DANIT may have struck the pipeline with its anchor when it arrived at the Port of Long Beach during a severe storm in January, breaking the pipe's inch-thick concrete casing and dragging it more than 100 feet, per AP.

Fintech's record year

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Massive venture rounds into fintech companies have ballooned this year, pushing up total dollars invested — in just the first three quarters of 2021 — to nearly double the amount in all of 2020, per new PitchBook data.

Why it matters: The maturing of fintech startups means a growing number of companies are able to raise huge later-stage funding rounds as investors look to lock-in their bets.

2 hours ago - Health

FDA authorizes mix-and-match for COVID booster shots

Photo: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) on Wednesday gave its approval for Americans to get booster shots that are different from the COVID vaccine they initially received.

Why it matters: The recommendation from the FDA, which also authorized booster shots for people who received Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines on Wednesday, paves the way for an expansion of booster shots.