LONDON--Shell delivered a record $40 billion profit in 2022, the energy giant said on Thursday, capping a tumultuous year in which a surge in energy prices after Russia's invasion of Ukraine allowed it to hand shareholders unprecedented returns.
The British company's record earnings, which more than doubled from a year earlier, mirror those reported by U.S. rivals earlier this week and are certain to intensify pressure on governments to further raise taxes on the sector.
"We intend to remain disciplined while delivering compelling shareholder returns," Chief Executive Wael Sawan said in a statement on the first set of earnings since he took the helm on Jan. 1.
Shell also posted record fourth-quarter profit of $9.8 billion on the back of a strong recovery in earnings from liquefied natural gas (LNG) trading, beating analyst forecasts for an $8 billion profit.
The annual profit of $39.9 billion far exceeded the previous record of $31 billion in 2008. It was driven by higher oil and gas prices, robust refining margins and a strong trading. Shell shares ended 1% lower amid a sharp sell off in the energy sector, after earlier rising by 3%.
Earnings from its LNG division reached $6 billion, a record high, boosted by strong overall trading earnings on the back the gas price volatility, despite recording a loss in the third quarter and a sharp drop in liquefaction volumes due to outages at LNG facilities.
Governments struggling with soaring energy bills have responded by imposing windfall taxes on the energy sector, but Britain's Labour opposition party said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was not doing enough. "The government is letting the fossil fuel companies making bumper profits off the hook with their refusal to implement a proper windfall tax," Labour's climate policy spokesperson Ed Miliband said in a statement.
Shell said it expects to incur around $2.4 billion in accounting costs related to the windfall levies in 2022, and that it will pay $500 million in cash tax in Britain this year.
Sawan, who earlier this week announced changes to Shell's structure, sought to convey a sense of continuation of his predecessor Ben van Beurden's strategy. "The company is in very good health. We have absolutely the right strategy and my core focus over the coming decade is to make sure that I can support the company as we operationalize strategy," Sawan told reporters.
Shell will update investors on its strategy in June. As previously announced, Shell boosted its dividend by 15% in the fourth quarter, the fifth increase since it delivered a more than 60% cut in the wake of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
The company also announced a new $4 billion share buyback programme over the next three months, unchanged from the previous three. It bought back $19 billion in shares in the year to February 2023, nearly double the total in pre-pandemic 2019.
The profits helped Shell and many other Western energy companies mask huge writedowns they took on Russian assets they abruptly exited after the conflict broke out. Shell however said on Thursday that it continued to export some LNG from Russia.
Shell aims to build a large renewables and low-carbon energy business as part of its ambition to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades. The company invested around $3.5 billion in its renewables and energy solutions business in 2022, around 14% of its capital expenditure of $24.8 billion. Capital expenditure in 2023 will reach $23 billion to $27 billion.
"Shell can't claim to be in transition as long as investments in fossil fuels dwarf investments in renewables," said Mark van Baal, founder of activist shareholder group Follow This.
The surge in revenue helped Shell sharply reduce its debt to $44.8 billion at the end of 2022 from $52.6 billion a year earlier. Its debt-to-capital ratio, known as gearing, dipped to 19% from 23.1% a year earlier.