So its free-fall on the stock-markets again. This morning the London market plunged by over 5 per cent as the chaos in the world’s financial markets continued.

All the expectations are that Wall Street will dive this afternoon. What is spooking the markets is the thought of a painful and long-lasting depression. But in the middle of this turmoil the oil giants BP and Shell are set to announce record profits.

Estimates vary but between them, the two oil giants look set to unveil combined profits of somewhere between $14 and $22 billion for the three months to September. This means that together the companies were making over  $10 million an hour. That’s a nice little earner.

This huge amount of money is likely to increase calls for an windfall energy tax and seems obscene when so many people are being clobbered by the credit crunch. It also comes days after UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, threatened to call in the regulators to investigate the oil companies for keeping fuel costs high even though the oil price is dropping fast.

And this means it is not all good news for the industry as the oil price has now more than halved since reaching a high of $147 a barrel in July to around $64 a barrel last week.

But the British unions are up in arms over the money. Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of the Unite union, described the oil giants’ profits as “eye-popping” and “immoral”. He said: “As families up and down the land wait in fear of the twin terrors of the cold and the fuel bill, it is time to put an end to this obscene profiteering.”

But the obscene profiteering is not over yet with Exxon and Chevron  expected to post record profits later in the week. The bad times may be coming, but the good times are still now.

One Comment

  • Please try a bit harder to promote financial literacy.

    Shell has assets of approx $270 billion. So yes, the profits that flow from an investment of this size will also be large in absolute terms.

    A better measure than the silly $’s per hour is return on invested capital, i.e., how much do they return for every dollar invested. Platt’s says about 23% ROIC, which is a good number, but not obscene, particularly given the extreme risks in the business (like your product’s price being cut by more than half in 6 months–let’s see what their ROIC is in a couple of quarters, certainly much lower).

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