Bad Week for Exxon: Outlook Plunges as NY Court Says Climate Criminal Must Comply
'There are more red flags than a 10-car pileup at a NASCAR race'
ExxonMobil is having a very bad week.
The oil giant was slammed Wednesday with a ruling against it from New York's highest court in the ongoing climate fraud investigation, as well as a scathing report from a financial analysis firm that suggested the company's fortunes may be in "irreversible decline."
The New York State Supreme Court ordered the oil behemoth to comply with the New York attorney general's subpoena seeking documents relating to the charge that the company hid what it knew about climate change from investors for decades. Exxon attempted to block the subpoena earlier this month.
New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman filed the subpoena on October 14 with Exxon's accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), because Exxon had argued that the documents in question were protected by a Texas statute that meant they fell under "accountant-client privilege."
In its ruling (pdf), the state Supreme Court characterized Exxon's interpretation of the Texas statute as "flawed" and wrote that New York law, rather than Texas law, applied to the New York attorney general's fraud investigation.
"We are pleased with the Court's order and look forward to moving full-steam ahead with our fraud investigation of Exxon," said Schneiderman in a statement. "Exxon had no legal basis to interfere with PwC's production, and I hope that today's order serves as a wake-up call to Exxon that the best thing they can do is cooperate with, rather than resist, our investigation."
Meanwhile, Exxon is currently struggling with "deep financial weaknesses," according to a report (pdf) published Wednesday by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a sustainability-focused economics research firm.
The report's findings suggest the oil giant may be in "irreversible decline," former New York state deputy comptroller Tom Sanzillo, the finance director at IEEFA, told CNN Money. "There are more red flags than a 10-car pileup at a NASCAR race," Sanzillo added.
The company's revenues fell by a staggering 45 percent over just the last five years, the report observes, as a result of the investigations from state attorneys general and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) into the allegations of climate-related fraud; the years-long drop in oil prices; and the rapid growth of the renewable energy industry.
Faced with the confluence of factors, Exxon has "recently more than tripled its reliance on long-term borrowing and has been downgraded by two credit agencies this year."
The IEEFA report calls on Exxon shareholders to take action. "While ExxonMobil is defending its rights, shareholders have rights also," the report argues. "Two lines of investor inquiry are strongly indicated at this time: first, into ExxonMobil's finances, which show clear evidence of current and ongoing stress; and second, into revelations regarding the company's research on climate change and the investor risk this issue raises."
Sanzillo argues that institutional investors—such as large pension funds—should demand answers from Exxon about the corporation's financial standing, and potentially look elsewhere for solid returns. (As New York state comptroller, Sanzillo helped choose investments for a New York state pension fund worth $156 billion.)
"Exxon is too big of an investment and too important of a company for institutional investors to simply shrug like they did with coal," Sanzillo told the Huffington Post. "I get that [Exxon] wants to wipe it all away. That's what everyone does, and that's what the coal industry did. Look where they wound up."