Imagine a world where the largest energy company in the world becomes even more massive by gobbling up one of the most notorious energy companies around. Got it? Okay, now prepare yourself because the rumors are swirling that such a thing could actually happen. Bloomberg is reporting that ExxonMobil, the largest energy company in the world, has plans to issue an $8 billion bond offering, the largest it has ever put out. Why? Well, that's where things get really interesting, because the Houston Business Journal is reporting that Irving-based Exxon could have plans to buy London-based British Petroleum.
Yeah. BP, the one with the oil spill.
We've got a call in to Exxon to see what it has to say about that possible merger. If it's true, this will be a huge deal for Houston. Exxon is the second largest energy industry employer, with about 13,000 employees in the Houston area. BP is the fifth largest energy industry employer, with about 10,000 employees in the area, according to HBJ. As we've already seen with the Baker Hughes/Halliburton merger, layoffs and mergers almost always go hand in hand. There's no reason to think that Exxon and BP getting together would go down any differently.
But that's not all the news coming out of Exxon today. While the "merger" is still squarely in the rumor category, Exxon officially became the largest energy company yet to react to the rock-bottom oil prices (about $60 per barrel today) by announcing cutbacks. Specifically, this morning the company announced it was cutting capital spending by 12 percent because of low crude oil prices. Exxon is by no means the first company to make this move, but it's a big deal because it's the supernova of the energy industry.
ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson came off as confident and totally not worried in his statement on the scaled-down investments:
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"ExxonMobil has a deep and diverse portfolio of opportunities around the world and a total resource base of more than 92 billion oil-equivalent barrels. We have unparalleled flexibility to select and invest in only the most attractive development projects."
However, despite all that positive talk, keep one thing in mind: Tillerson obviously noted the sheer size, scope and bulk of Exxon as a way of reassuring the public that the world's largest publicly traded company will be fine, but the flipside is that one of the largest energy companies in the world is having to tighten its belt, which doesn't bode well for the industry.
Oil prices have been dropping for months, but the real-life effect didn't start hitting until right around January. Just a few weeks ago, Ed Hirs, an energy economist professor at University of Houston, told us that Exxon was one of the most solid companies around and there was no way they'd be feeling the falling prices. And yet they've announced those cuts. No word if those cuts will be followed with layoffs, but we'll update on that as soon as we hear back.
Meanwhile, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. also announced cutbacks this week. The Woodlands-based company is eliminating 33 percent of its capital spending, including 40 percent cuts to onshore rig activity. The exploration company is also going to hold off on oil well completion in its main shale plays in the Eagle Ford in South Texas, the Wolfcamp in West Texas and the Wattenberg in Colorado. The big boss, CEO Al Walker, stated that there aren't any plans for layoffs right now. We're hoping that's true, but, again, it's worth keeping in mind that every company seems to deny a chance of layoffs right up until it announces there are going to be layoffs.