Business

European energy companies raking in record profits – as sky-high bills squeeze customers' wallets

Business Insider US
Gas being flared off at Centricas gas plant in Barrow in Furness This plant processes gas from the Morecambe bay gas field, Cumbria, UK. (Photo by Ashley Cooper/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images)
Gas being flared off at Centricas gas plant in Barrow in Furness This plant processes gas from the Morecambe bay gas field, Cumbria, UK. (Photo by Ashley Cooper/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images)
  • Energy providers Centrica and Shell both just booked record profits as fuel costs rise.
  • Europe is experiencing a gas crisis, with one key benchmark doubling in two months.
  • British households' energy bills could have tripled by the end of the year, according to the consultancy firm BFY.
  • For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za

Soaring gas prices are bad news for consumers - but they're helping major energy companies to rake in record-breaking profits.

UK-listed oil and gas major Shell and Centrica, a utility, reported record-breaking quarterly profits this week.

Shell posted quarterly profits of 11.5 billion pounds ($13.6 billion) - up 92% from a year ago - while British Gas owner Centrica hauled in 1.3 billion pounds ($1.6 billion).

Soaring oil and gas prices have helped the two firms to achieve those historic results. Brent crude and WTI crude have both spiked over 30% year-to-date, while benchmark Dutch TTF natural gas futures have risen by 112% since the start of June.

"It comes as no surprise that Centrica and Shell have performed very strongly again this quarter, with earnings resulting in an $11.5 billion profit, a new record for Shell," Infosys Consulting strategist Simon Tucker said. "It's clear we are currently in a commodities super cycle with supply limited and demand high – and this is likely to be the case for the next three to five years."

European prices for natural gas, coal and power have surged this year, largely because of disruption to fuel supply from Russia, which provides around 40% of the region's gas needs alone. EU sanctions on Moscow over the war in Ukraine have resulted in tit-for-tat closures of key sources of energy supply, which has driven inflation to multi-year highs, squeezing consumers, but bringing a windfall to fuel providers. 

And it isn't just UK energy companies that have seen their profits soar.

Norwegian firm Equinor paid out an additional $3 billion dividend to shareholders earlier this week after a strong second quarter, while France's Total SE saw its adjusted income treble to $9.8 billion.

Goldman Sachs strategists warned Europe's energy crisis is likely to last until at least 2025 earlier this week.

"We expect European gas prices will ultimately be driven higher once again during summer 2023, as price-driven demand destruction becomes top of mind once more," a team led by the bank's head of natural gas research Samantha Dart said in a recent research note. "A more sustained lower-price environment is not likely in Europe in our view until 2025."

But the record-breaking profits come as consumers grapple with soaring fuel costs.

The energy consultancy firm warned this week that UK households could see their fuel bills rise to just under 3,500 pounds ($4,280) by the end of 2022 - meaning the figure would have tripled in the space of a year.

Analysts called for the oil and gas firms to reinvest their sky-high profits to help boost supply, which could be one route to easing Europe's energy crisis.

"Every effort possible must be made to reduce energy use and improve supply," Infosys's Tucker said. "Investment can also be directed towards the clean-up of bad industry practices like flaring and spillage of oil, which will open up significant waste reduction potential.

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