ExxonMobil and Chevron Corp. investors on Wednesday were generally unswayed by the historic downturn in oil prices and voted against nearly all shareholder-backed resolutions at their annual meetings. However, a push for more information about climate risks was given the green light by Chevron shareholders.
At ExxonMobil’s virtual meeting, shareholders approved all of the board-supported actions, which included voting for all directors, the executive compensation program and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP as independent auditors. Investors defeated, per board recommendations, six shareholder-led proposals.
“Despite the current volatility and near-term uncertainty, the long-term fundamentals that drive our business remain strong and unchanged,” CEO Darren Woods said. “Our objective is to strengthen the structure and earnings power of our business through industry-advantaged projects to provide a solid foundation for generating cash, reliably growing the dividend and maintaining a strong balance sheet.”
In response to the impact of Covid-19 on energy demand, ExxonMobil in April reduced capital expenditures (capex)by 30% to $23 billion and cut cash operating expenses by 15%. The company has identified opportunities to reduce capex without compromising project advantages or returns, Woods said.
“We’ve adjusted our business plans in response to market conditions, and are working hard to ensure we maintain the value of our portfolio of industry-leading opportunities,” he said. “While these are uncertain times, some things remain unchanged — including the fundamentals that underpin our business, our long-term plan and commitment to grow value for shareholders.”
The workforce adapted quickly to the pandemic, Woods said, with manufacturing operations adjusted to deliver prized raw materials to assist medical professionals and first responders fighting Covid-19 on the front lines. Production ramped up for polypropylene, used to make medical gowns and masks, as well as isopropyl alcohol, a key ingredient in medical-grade hand sanitizer and other disinfectants. ExxonMobil also supported developing third-party production of safety equipment.
“There is no question that times like these demonstrate the vital role our company and our industry play in modern life,” said Woods. “It has been inspiring to see the actions of our people who are stepping up to help fight this virus and its effects, all while continuing critical operations.”
Woods also outlined ExxonMobil’s continued efforts to address society’s dual challenge of providing affordable energy necessary for economic growth while reducing emissions. The company is investing in technologies focused on commercial transportation, power generation and industrial processes, which together account for about 80% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
In the annual meeting voting tally, the call to separate ExxonMobil’s CEO and chair roles, now held by Woods, was turned back by two-thirds of shareholders. Last year, a similar resolution gained 41% approval. Proxy advisers Glass Lewis & Co., as well as Egan-Jones Proxy Services, had recommended approving the split.
Investors in favor of separating the chair/CEO roles included the Church of England, Legal & General Investment Management, the New York State Common Retirement Fund and the largest state public pension fund, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
A resolution to allow special shareholder meetings was defeated by almost three-quarters of ExxonMobil’s shareholders, and they also nixed a resolution that would have required annual reporting on environmental expenditures and their impact. Also defeated were resolutions calling for annual reports on political contributions and lobbying efforts.
One resolution that was opposed by shareholders at ExxonMobil and Chevron was filed by advocacy group As You Sow. It called on the supermajors to report annually about the public health risks of expanding petrochemical operations in areas increasingly prone to climate change-induced storms, flooding and sea level rise.
ExxonMobil shareholders defeated the resolution by about 75%, while Chevron turned it back with 46% in opposition. The near-identical proposal was approved by almost 55% at Phillips 66’s annual meeting earlier in May.
All but one of Chevron’s seven shareholder-backed resolutions went down in defeat at the virtual annual meeting — except for the call to charter a climate risk committee to evaluate company strategy.
In light of the coronavirus, CEO Michael Wirth said the San Ramon, CA-based major’s biggest challenges today are ensuring employees have safe access to facilities and there is continuity of operations.
“We activated our pandemic response plan in January, and have continued to adapt as events have unfolded,” Wirth said. “I am proud of our workers who show up every day to keep energy flowing into the economy.”
The operator expects financial results to be depressed “as long as current market conditions persist,” management said. In March, Chevron cut capex by 20% across the portfolio, with most of the upstream reductions in the Permian Basin.
“Chevron is responding to these unprecedented challenges by making changes to what we can control,” Wirth said. “It’s always good to hear from our stockholders.” He said he hoped the annual meeting “left them with a deeper understanding of how we’ve advanced the business over the past year and our plans for the year ahead.”
Shareholders nixed resolutions that would have, among other things, required Chevron to detail every year how its lobbying activities were aligned with the 2015 United Nations’ climate accord.
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