The oil industry continues to struggle despite prices rising and expectations for strong earnings reports. Energy stocks in the S&P 500 declined by 6.6 percent in the first quarter.
The oil majors are expected to post $80 billion in organic free cash flow in 2018, but spending is expected to be modest.
Oil majors may not be entirely out of the woods yet, but first-quarter performances suggest that they are on the upswing after nearly three years of mostly red ink.
Exxon and other oil majors are still giving the green light to a handful of complex and risky but potentially highly profitable projects offshore, while at the same time increasingly shifting more resources into safer, smaller-scale shale drilling.
Oil majors are now cash flow neutral with oil prices trading around $50 per barrel, a milestone achieved after relentless cuts to spending and payrolls over the past couple of years.
The approval of the $37 billion expansion is the largest final investment decision across the entire global oil industry this year, and ranks in the top three in recent years.
If oil prices do not rebound substantially, the oil majors will not be able to keep up such high levels of spending and still offer shareholders such generous dividends.
A good bit of the linkage between oil prices and the Dow is the result of general market sentiment, psychology, and knee-jerk reactions. At the same time, however, the fallout from the pain in the energy sector is touching large segments of the economy, including many major U.S. corporations with exposure to oil and gas.
The decline in oil prices that began in mid-2014 has wreaked havoc across all different types of companies in the industry, and there seems to be no respite in the short run. Companies are continuing to lay off staff, cut back on projects, and report eye-opening losses.
Despite a tumultuous history for foreign investors, Argentina is home to the only commercial shale production outside of North America, with output expected to double by 2018.