Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. pledged to ramp up shareholder returns as crude oil and natural gas prices surged to multi-year highs following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  

Despite pleas from politicians to ease the burden on consumers, the biggest U.S. oil explorers are focused on rewarding investors while keeping drilling budgets in check. Exxon tripled its share- buyback program to $30 billion and Chevron said it will repurchase a record $10 billion of stock before the end of this year. 

Big Oil is among the biggest corporate winners from Russia’s increasing isolation nine weeks into an invasion that helped push crude to a 14-year high. While four of the five supermajors are incurring multi-billion dollar writedowns as they exit Russia, those paper losses have been outweighed by blossoming cash flows.

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Exxon’s first-quarter earnings, excluding a $3.4 billion impairment due to Russia, were the highest since 2014 while Chevron’s were the best since 2012. 

Still, both companies fell short of Wall Street expectations amid weaker-than-expected refining results. Even as they profited from climbing oil prices, that same rally elevated feedstock costs for their refineries, triggering hundreds of millions in losses at their overseas plants.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst Phil Gresh described the factors that dinged refining results as “transitory” and predicted they will reverse. 

Exxon’s “large buyback increase to $30bn should more than offset slightly disappointing 1Q numbers, largely driven by one-offs,” Jefferies International Ltd. analyst Giacomo Romeo wrote in a note.  

Politicians in the U.S. and Europe have criticized Big Oil for reaping massive profits as consumers struggle with surging prices for motor fuels, sparking calls from some quarters for windfall-profit taxes. 

Chevron countered by increasing its growth target in the prolific Permian Basin to 15 per cent from 10 per cent despite rising cost inflation in the region. The company has no plans to change its medium-term spending target, Chief Financial Officer Pierre Breber said in an interview, noting that the current range allows for a $4 billion increase over the coming years. 

“We have space in the existing guidance to increase investment in both our traditional and new energy businesses,” Breber said.

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Exxon, which had been focused on repaying debt accrued during the pandemic, now is accelerating oil output Guyana, where it made the world’s largest oil discovery of the past decade. The company’s Liza Phase 1 operation is currently producing 10,000 barrels above daily nameplate capacity. Another project in the area, Payara, is running five months ahead of schedule and is due to come online before the end of next year

However, those increases will largely offset declines elsewhere. Exxon’s production in the first quarter was equivalent to 3.7 million barrels a day, the lowest since its 1999 merger with Mobil. Still, Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods sees “positive momentum” due to the absence of weather-related shutdowns, he said in the first-quarter profit statement. 

Chevron is the only supermajor not to report a writedown related to Russia. The company’s main Russian entity is the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, which transports crude from its giant Tengiz operation in Kazakhstan to the Black Sea. The pipeline was damaged in a recent storm but Kazakh officials expect it should resume full operations shortly. 

“Repairs are complete and crude from Kazakhstan is operating normally, transiting through Russia on CPC and loading,” Breber said. “We’re back to full production and full loadings out of CPC.”