(Bloomberg) -- A new energy windfall tax in the European Union may give oil majors a reason to spurn investment in favor of returning record profits to shareholders, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.
The tax is part of a raft of measures proposed by the EU to funnel profits from the energy industry to alleviate the burden of high prices driven by Russia’s restriction of natural gas supplies. The proposal could create uncertainty that deters companies such as Shell Plc, TotalEnergies SE and BP Plc from spending on new production, according to Christyan Malek, the bank’s global head of energy strategy.
“If you’re planning your capital budget, you have to think twice now that you have a new risk,” Malek said in an interview. “It encourages majors to return cash to shareholders as they use that free cashflow that could have been used in investment.”
A potential cut in spending would mean less relief in the future for a global oil market that already has little spare capacity to increase supply and alleviate high prices.
The EU’s proposal would tax the extra income generated by oil and gas companies in the EU compared to what they made in the previous three years, a period that included the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing drops in demand, prices and profits. The windfall charge is proposed to be temporary.
“Major oil, gas and coal companies are also making huge profits. So they have to pay a fair share – they have to give a crisis contribution,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a speech Wednesday.
Key to the oil majors’ thinking will be whether or not the EU will extend or repeat the measure in future years. That will make it harder for companies to invest capital now when they don’t have full visibility on their costs.
“It’s not the absolute number, it’s the uncertainty, the unpredictability of this,” Malek said. “There’s a risk this becomes recurring.”
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