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Exxon Mobil on Tuesday released fourth-quarter earnings and announced the appointment of former Petronas CEO Wan Zulkiflee as a director. However, activist investor Engine No. 1 depicted the move as a defensive measure and said the underperforming board should not be choosing its own new members.
The oil major said in a Tuesday press release that it lost $20.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020 and $22.4 billion in the whole of fiscal 2020, its first annual loss as a public company.
It also responded to some of Engine No. 1’s criticisms – indirectly – by announcing the formation of a new business to commercialize low-carbon technology, and describing capital expenditure reductions of 35%, adding that it would cut further to support its massive dividend, which costs the company around $15 billion a year, as long as Brent prices stay above $45 per barrel.
ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, the company’s new greener venture, will invest $3 billion in low-emission technologies through 2025.
Separately, Exxon announced the appointment of Wan Zulkiflee, a former chief executive officer of Malaysian state energy firm Petronas, to its board and hinted at more additions as part of “its ongoing refreshment process.” Rumors of a settlement with D.E. Shaw Investment Management, another activist in the stock, were reported earlier by Bloomberg.
Reacting to Exxon’s two announcements, Engine No. 1 said the measures “do not materially alter ExxonMobil’s long-term trajectory nor do they position it to succeed in a changing world.”
Engine No. 1, which last week kicked off a proxy contest for four director seats, said “Exxon shareholders deserve a board that works proactively to create long-term value, not defensively in the face of deteriorating returns and the threat of losing their seats.”
The activist added that Exxon’s current strategy, even with the most recent changes, positions the business for “continued value destruction for decades to come.”
Engine No. 1 owns a small stake of around $40 million in Exxon but enjoys the support of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and The Church of England’s investment body.
Despite the large annual loss, Exxon’s stock was up 3.3% in morning trading on Tuesday, likely the result of the company’s promise to maintain its $15 billion-a-year dividend, the third-highest in the S&P 500 Index.