Mar 4, 2020

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,262 words, < 5 minutes.

Situational awareness: "The European Commission unveiled a 'climate law' on Wednesday to make the EU’s 2050 net zero emissions target legally binding, but Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and NGOs said more urgent action was needed to beat the climate crisis," Reuters reports.

🎵And at this moment in 1982, The Go-Go's were about to hit number 1 on the Billboard album charts with "Beauty and the Beat," which provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Big Oil's ocean-wide split on climate

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

This week is providing a rolling demonstration of the divide between U.S. and European-headquartered multinational oil giants when it comes to climate change.

Driving the news: Chevron CEO Mike Wirth yesterday made the case for their posture, which eschews the deep, long-term, emissions-cutting targets of companies like BP and Shell.

  • Chevron and ExxonMobil are also more cautious about spending on low-carbon technologies outside their core business than European majors.

What they're saying: “Certainly the European companies have made longer-term aspirational commitments," Wirth said yesterday at the company's annual meeting with analysts in New York.

  • "What we have done is given you things that are very tangible here and now that we are doing today,” Wirth said.
  • Wirth and other Chevron officials touted steps like near-term efforts to cut the emissions intensity of its oil production by 5%–10% by 2023.
  • "Right now for us, renewables create the most value when we integrate them into our existing operations, but we’re mindful of the opportunity for new business models," he said.

What's next: Exxon holds its annual investor day Thursday, where its approach — which shares more with Chevron than European majors — is bound to come up.

The big picture: The two U.S. giants' annual presentations come on the heels of fresh climate pledges by their rivals across the Atlantic.

  • BP last month pledged to become a "net-zero" emissions company by 2050, while last week Eni vowed an 80% cut in net emissions by then.
  • European majors are setting targets around "Scope 3" emissions, that is, the pollution from use of their products in the economy.
  • A good rundown of the plans comes via Reuters here.
  • Shell, Total, and BP have also withdrawn from some trade associations over differences on climate, something the U.S. counterparts are not doing.

But, but, but: A couple of things are worth noting here. One is that Exxon and Chevron have taken new or wider steps in recent years.

  • Examples include Chevron's investments, via its VC arm, in companies like ChargePoint and Carbon Engineering, and both majors joining the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative.
  • And when comparing them to the European majors, it's important to remember that while the European players have been more active, spending on low-carbon tech remains a small fraction of everyone's budget.
Bonus 1: Explaining the U.S.-European divide

David Goldwyn, a top State Department energy official early in the Obama years, offered me some explanations for the differing postures, including...

  • European majors' portfolios are more weighted toward gas, which provides a head start.
  • "[T]here is a social consensus accepting the urgent need for climate action in Holland, the U.K., France and Norway," he adds, referring to the headquarters of Shell, BP, Total and Equinor.
  • U.S. majors, who are heavily invested in shale, face "challenging economics." That fuels reluctance to move more heavily into clean energy sectors with low margins.

The bottom line: "[O]verall the problem is that the shareholder base of the U.S. companies is neither insisting on nor rewarding a move away from the core business," says Goldwyn, now head of the consultancy Goldwyn Global Strategies.

  • "Until that happens, or law or regulation change to alter those economics, survival will keep them where they are."
Bonus 2: The state of Exxon and Chevron
Expand chart
Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals

Chevron's stock closed down roughly 2% yesterday after the company's presentation to analysts, which included a target of distributing $75 billion to $80 billion to shareholders over five years via dividends and buybacks.

What we're watching: Exxon, which has faced financial struggles in recent years, holds its investor day tomorrow.

  • The company's share price is at its lowest level in 15 years heading into the meeting.
  • Both Exxon and Chevron are competing in U.S. shale, but low prices are making the economics challenging.
  • I'll also be watching for updates on Exxon's long-term investments, including its plans to greatly ramp up production from huge fields off Guyana's coast.

Go deeper: Chevron’s $80 billion pledge to investors exceeds $100-crude era (Bloomberg)

2. Coronavirus hammers demand ahead of OPEC+ meeting

An analysis on the effect of the novel coronavirus on oil demand is driving home the stakes of the OPEC+ meeting later this week.

What's new: Via Axios' Orion Rummler, IHS Markit estimates that the decline in oil demand this quarter will be the largest ever recorded, edging out what happened in the 2008–2009 financial crisis.

  • The consultancy expects that global oil thirst will drop by 3.8 million barrels per day compared to the same period a year earlier.
  • "It now appears likely that oil demand will be less than in 2019, even if there is a recovery in the second half of 2020," they note.

What they're saying: “This is a sudden, instant demand shock — and the scale of the decline is unprecedented,” said Jim Burkhard, IHS Markit's head of oil markets. Orion has more here.

What's next: All eyes will be on the OPEC+ meeting in Vienna on Thursday and Friday as the producers try and shore up prices that have fallen sharply since the outbreak.

  • "Some key members of the group, most notably OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia, are thought to be pushing for an output cut of up to 1 million barrels per day," CNBC reports.

The big picture: The IHS report is among several analyses on the effect of the illness that's sharply curtailing travel and economic activity.

  • A new Goldman Sachs research note projects that global demand for 2020 overall will fall by 150,000 barrels per day, in contrast to their estimate of 1.1 million barrels per day of growth before the outbreak.
  • Per Bloomberg, Goldman is the first major bank to project a year-over-year demand drop, as opposed to just sharply lower growth, as a result of the outbreak.

Go deeper: Follow our coronavirus coverage here.

3. K Street's mixed climate message

A top business trade association official and the CEO of a major pipeline company said Tuesday they want the federal government to do more on climate change — but they’re not actually backing any such plans, Axios' Amy Harder reports.

Driving the news: Marty Durbin, a top official at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Williams Company CEO Alan Armstrong, speaking at a Bipartisan Policy Center event, both said they think the government should create an economy-wide policy to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

But, but, but: They don’t support any pending proposals to do that, like a carbon tax or a clean energy standard.

  • They also aren’t advocating for the government to directly regulate emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane.
  • The Obama administration started to regulate emissions, but President Trump is rolling that back.
“We do have a lot of [member] companies who already are clearly saying they are for a price on carbon. Well, guess what, there are a lot of others that don’t. Clearly, we don’t have consensus among the members. So we don’t support a price on carbon at the moment. We’re also not opposing one. We’re not lobbying against a carbon tax of any kind.”
— Marty Durbin, president, Chamber's Global Energy Institute

Read more

4. VC notes: $30 million for Bolt Mobility

Bolt Mobility's electric scooter and CEO Julia Steyn. Photos: Bolt Mobility

Bolt Mobility, a Miami Beach-based electric scooter company co-founded by Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, announced Tuesday that it closed a Series A funding round, Axios' Joann Muller reports.

  • That brings total investment to $30 million at a $100 million valuation.

Why it matters: Bolt, led by former General Motors mobility executive Julia Steyn, is entering a crowded field in which many competitors are losing money and cutting back after two years of explosive growth.

Details: The funding round was co-led by Rokk3r Fuel ExO and Sofreh Capital.

  • Bolt currently operates 5,000 scooters in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Alexandria, Arlington, Richmond, Nashville, Atlanta, Portland, and Paris.
  • It is approved to soon launch in several more cities across the U.S. and Europe.

Of note: Bolt also announced that Ed Welburn, GM's former vice president of global design, is joining the company as an advisor.

5. Quote of the day
"Welcome to Dallas, where my Uber was a heavily souped-up pickup truck, and people have never heard of Greta."

Who said it: Mizuho Securities analyst Paul Sankey in a client note yesterday, referencing the high-profile Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (h/t to Amy for selecting today's quote).

The context: Sankey is relaying his experience at an energy finance conference where he spoke about "The Greta Effect" — that is, the rising tide of climate activism — among the forces battering the oil sector.

Ben GemanAmy Harder