(Corrects annual loss to previously reported net annual loss of $22.4 billion)
By Jennifer Hiller
HOUSTON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp on Tuesday posted its first annual loss as a public company as the COVID-19 pandemic hammered energy prices and reduced the value of its shale gas properties by more than $20 billion.
Exxon last year slashed spending on new projects by nearly a third, outlined plans to cut up to 15% of its workforce while adding $21 billion to its debt to cover its spending and restructuring.
The changes come amid "the most challenging market conditions Exxon has ever experienced," said Chief Executive Darren Woods, and over time will cut costs by $6 billion a year compared to 2019.
The company reported a net annual loss of $22.4 billion for 2020, on the write down and losses in oil production and refining, compared with a full-year profit of $14.34 billion in 2019.
Exxon shares rose 2% to $45.80% at market open.
OILMAN JOINS BOARD
The company remains under fire from environmentalists and activist investors pushing for a board overhaul and a strategy to transition to cleaner fuels. Exxon pushed back against their calls for clean energy expertise, naming the former head of Malaysia's state oil company, Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin, to its board. It is in discussions with other candidates, the company added.
Other oil majors posted losses for the year as pandemic-related travel restrictions cut fuel demand and triggered huge writedowns. Rivals BP and Chevron posted annual losses.
Royal Dutch Shell reports financial results Thursday.
Exxon posted a net loss of $20.2 billion, or $4.70 per share, in the fourth-quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with a profit of $5.69 billion, or $1.33 per share, a year ago. Excluding the impairment and other charges, the company earned 3 cents per share, beating analysts' average expectation of a one-cent gain, according to Refinitiv IBES data.
"The turnaround story will take some time," said Biraj Borkhataria, analyst with RBC Capital Markets, noting that the company is not yet covering its dividend and capital spending with cash from operations.
LOWER OUTPUT IN OIL AND REFINING
Exxon's oil and gas output was 3.7 million barrels of oil and gas per day in the quarter, down 8% compared with a year earlier.
Exploration and production, Exxon's largest business, lost $18.5 billion in the fourth quarter on the natural gas asset impairments, compared with a profit of $6.1 billion the year prior.
Its chemicals business earned $691 million on better margins in part from lower oil prices, up from a loss of $355 million a year ago. Refining lost $1.2 billion, compared with profit of $898 million last year, on weak margins and lower output as the pandemic limited global travel.
The writedown lays bare the size of the miscalculation that the company made in 2010 when it paid $30 billion for U.S. shale oil and gas producer XTO Energy. The writedown also included properties in Argentina and Canada.
The move to add a board member comes as Exxon looks to burnish its environmental credentials as hedge fund Engine No. 1 leads a proxy fight to nominate four candidates to Exxon's board.
"ExxonMobil shareholders deserve a board that works proactively to create long-term value, not defensively in the face of deteriorating returns and the threat of losing their seats," Engine No.1 said in a statement.
On Monday, Exxon said it would invest $3 billion on lower emission solutions through 2025 and created a business that will focus on commercializing its carbon capture technology.
(Reporting by Jennifer Hiller in Houston and Shariq Khan in Bengaluru; Editing by Will Dunham, Sriraj Kalluvila, Kirsten Donovan and Barbara Lewis)
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