One of the most valuable companies in the world reported earnings on Sunday. The company is a member of the trillion-dollar club, but it isn’t a U.S. giant—it is the
Saudi Arabian Oil Company
—more commonly known as Aramco.
Aramco’s second-quarter numbers tell a story about 2020, commodity valuation, and the global economy.
Aramco (ticker: 2222.Saudi Arabia) earned $6.6 billion in the second quarter and $23.2 billion in the first half of 2020. That is down from $23.5 billion in second quarter 2019 earnings and more than $45 billion earned in the first half of the 2019.
Falling crude oil prices are the reason for the significant earnings drop. Brent crude oil—the international price benchmark—is down 32% year to date and 22% year over year. The global economy is in recession amid global pandemic and that is hurting demand for energy.
Aramco stock, however, is down only 6% year to date. The reason for resilience might not be obvious. Aramco can produce about 4 billion barrels of oil a year at current production rates. But the company has more than 225 billion barrels of oil—or 56 years of production—in reserve. Most of Aramco’s value is underground.
The stock has also held up because Aramco is going to keep paying dividends—worth about $18 billion a quarter—despite weak energy prices.
What’s more, Aramco recently lost its market capitalization crown to
(AAPL). The American tech giant earned about $11 billion in the calendar second quarter and about $22 billion in the first half of 2020. Apple earnings grew year over year in the second quarter, despite pandemic.
And analysts and investors are looking forward to 5G iPhones and more tech growth far into the future. In fact, Apple’s earnings are expected to keep growing in the back half of 2020. The same can’t be said for Aramco.
Tech has taken over. That isn’t surprising, but the numbers are still eye-popping. Stock in the four more valuable tech companies—Apple along with
(MSFT), Google parent
(AMZN)—is worth more than $6 trillion. The four largest energy companies in America are worth roughly $400 billion, or less than 7% of tech’s total.
Times have changed. John D. Rockefeller—the patriarch of Standard Oil, the one time American energy monopoly—reached $1 billion in net worth around 1916. There is no great way to convert old values into today’s money. The U.S. was on the gold standard back then and technology has changed a lot. It’s possible to use gold pricing or inflation data, but as a percentage of total U.S. economic output Rockefeller was worth about 2% of U.S. GDP. That equates to roughly $400 billion today.
Tech companies are more valuable, but net worth is more spread out versus Rockefeller’s era. Richest person in the world and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, for instance, is worth just $190 billion. That’s less than 1% of U.S. GDP. He has a way to go to catch Rockefeller—at least on a relative basis.
Write to Al Root at firstname.lastname@example.org