How renewable energy can pay off for big oil

Published onNovember 19, 2020

Major oil companies are in the early stages of one of the biggest transformations in any industry in decades. Nearly all of them are starting to make investments in low-carbon businesses, investing in wind, solar, and hydrogen power. Investors clearly have mixed opinions about this shift. Big pension funds and other institutional investors are demanding that oil companies make this change, but as the companies invest in renewables, their stock prices tend to fall. BP (BP) is one example. The company announced plans this year to produce net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and increased its spending on renewable projects — goals that are in line with investor demands. But its stock has continued to fall. It’s now down 48% this year, worse than its Big Oil competitors. RBC Capital Markets analyst Biraj Borkhataria published a note on Tuesday analyzing this shift, and considering which companies might be able to best navigate it. The key problem is this: Renewable energy companies are often valued on their expected future earnings. Solar development firms, for instance, often report annual losses but receive lofty valuations from investors because of expectations that their current investments will pay off in the future.