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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The decline of ExxonMobil has been remarkable in its magnitude and unexpectedness.

Why it matters: While all major oil companies are facing troubles, Exxon has fallen the farthest, in large part because it has made the biggest bets on oil and gas — and the smallest bets on renewable energy.

  • While rival BP has recently promised to get to zero net emissions by 2050, Exxon has been doubling down on fossil fuels with moves like a spectacularly ill-timed $41 billion acquisition of XTO energy in 2009 and its major expansion in the Permian Basin in 2017.

Driving the news: Exxon reported a loss of $680 million in the third quarter of this year, bringing its losses for 2020 as a whole up to $2.37 billion. (In 2008, by contrast, it made a profit of $46 billion.)

  • The company also announced it would shed up to 15% of its workforce over the next two years, including roughly 1,900 U.S. layoffs, mostly at its Houston HQ.
  • By the numbers: Exxon and Mobil combined had 390,000 employees in 1980. By 2017, that number had shrunk to less than 70,000.

Losses and layoffs notwithstanding, Exxon is still spending roughly $15 billion on sending a $3.48-per-share dividend to shareholders this year.

  • Few if any analysts believe such a payout is sustainable. “We have doubts about the sanctity of the dividend longer-term,” Edward Jones analyst Jennifer Rowland told Reuters.

Flashback: The oil giant was the largest company in the world, measured by market value, as recently as 2013.

  • A 700-page corporate biography by Columbia University journalism dean Steve Coll was entitled "Private Empire" and compared the company's power and reach to that of the United States itself.
  • When CEO Rex Tillerson became U.S. Secretary of State in 2017, it was not obvious that he was gaining power or influence.

The big picture: Today, ExxonMobil is not even in the top 40 most valuable companies in America. It's losing money, cutting staff, and stretching to maintain an unsustainable dividend.

  • The oil giant's market capitalization of $137 billion makes it smaller than Zoom ($139 billion), and only about a third of the size of electricity-powered Tesla ($385 billion).
  • NextEra Energy, a power company with huge renewables assets, is also worth more than ExxonMobil.
  • The most valuable company, Apple, is worth roughly 14 ExxonMobils.

Exxon has lost 54% of its value this year alone. That's some $163 billion. By contrast, Chevron is down 42%, or $95 billion, while NextEra is up 23%, or $26 billion.

My thought bubble: A decade ago, ExxonMobil was making strategic decisions on a timescale of 50 years or more. Today, it has been reduced to desperate short-term attempts to prop up the share price by paying a multi-billion-dollar dividend even when it's losing money.

  • Analysts aren't convinced that tactic is working. "Every time you pay a dividend you can't afford," said Doug Leggate, Merrill Lynch's head of U.S. oil and gas, on Friday's earnings call, "your share price is going down."

The bottom line: As King George III so memorably put it in the musical Hamilton, "Oceans rise, empires fall."

  • ExxonMobil might be the first empire to fall as a result of global climate change. It won't be the last.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Dec 1, 2020 - Economy & Business

Airbnb seeking $2.6 billion in IPO

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Hospitality giant Airbnb on Tuesday set terms for its upcoming IPO, saying it plans to raise up to $2.6 billion.

Big number: The company would have an initial market cap of $28 billion, or an enterprise value of around $32 billion, were it to price shares in the middle of its proposed price range of $44-$50 per share.

Go deeper: Airbnb files for long-awaited IPO

Cyber Monday sets record for biggest online shopping day in U.S. history

Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Americans spent $10.8 billion on Cyber Monday this year, making it the largest online shopping day in U.S. history, according to Adobe Analytics data reported by CNBC.

Why it matters: The surge in online shopping comes as the pandemic has accelerated the decline of Black Friday shopping at traditional brick-and-mortar stores, which saw in-store traffic plunge by roughly 50% compared with last year, according to data from RetailNext and Sensormatic Solutions.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Dec 2, 2020 - Energy & Environment

The chasm between CO2 goals and energy production

Reproduced from The Production Gap Report: 2020 Special Report; Chart: Axios Visuals

Projected and planned levels of global oil, natural gas and coal production are way out of step with the kind of emissions cuts needed to hold global warming significantly in check, a new analysis shows.

Why it matters: The "production gap" report from the UN's environment agency and other researchers provides another lens onto how the world is nowhere near on track to meet the Paris climate deal's goals.

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