Saudi Arabia’s state oil company said it would increase spending on oil production to meet rising global demand, as it reported a doubling of profits in 2021.
Saudi Aramco – the world’s largest oil exporter and one of the world’s most profitable companies – said its net profit increased by 124% to $ 110bn (£ 83bn) in 2021, compared with $ 49bn a year earlier.
The company said its profits had soared as a result of higher crude oil prices as demand for oil rebounded after the pandemic, and also because of increased margins in its refining and chemicals business.
Brent crude oil rocketed to $ 139 a barrel, a 14-year high, earlier this month, but has since dropped to closer to $ 100. In early December, a barrel of crude was priced below $ 70.
Aramco expects demand for oil to keep climbing, and said “substantial new investment” is required to meet this demand, in a move likely to dismay climate campaigners.
It said it is increasing its capital expenditure for 2022 by about half to between $ 40 and $ 50bn, with further growth expected until the middle of the decade. The state-owned oil firm’s capital expenditure came in just below $ 32bn in 2021, an 18% increase on 2020.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been asked in recent days by western governments to pump more oil to end their reliance on supplies from Russia.
The Gulf countries are the only two leading oil producers that have immediate spare capacity able to offset the shortfall in Russian-produced energy. However, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent report that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are so far “showing no willingness to tap into reserves”.
The countries are both members of the Opec + cartel of oil-producing countries, which will meet for the next time at the end of March to decide on output levels. Despite the conflict in Ukraine, Opec members only agreed earlier this month to raise output by a modest 400,000 barrels a day.
Labor has accused the UK government of “going cap in hand from dictator to dictator” as it attempts to address the energy crisis.
Aramco’s president and chief executive, Amin Nasser, said the outlook for oil demand remained uncertain “due to various macro-economic and geopolitical factors”. He added that the company’s investment plan “aims to tap into rising long-term demand for reliable, affordable and ever more secure and sustainable energy.
“We recognize that energy security is paramount for billions of people around the world, which is why we continue to make progress on increasing our crude oil production capacity, executing our gas expansion program.”
Aramco is just the latest of the world’s big oil companies to post soaring profits. In the UK, the swelling coffers at BP and Shell have prompted Labor to call on the chancellor Rishi Sunak to announce a windfall tax on oil and gas profits, an idea that he has so far resisted.
The shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, renewed her calls on Sunday for the introduction of the tax to tackle the growing cost of the living crisis in the UK. “If we used that windfall tax on the big profits being made by North Sea oil and gas companies … to redirect it into keeping prices low, you would tackle the cost of living crisis and you would not need to have such big increases in pay, “She told the BBC.
Aramco briefly became the most valuable listed company in history when it floated on the Saudi stock exchange in 2019 and was named the world’s most profitable business. However, it was later toppled by US tech company Apple.
The state-owned company said it would pay shareholders a dividend of nearly $ 19bn for the final quarter of 2021, while it also plans to distribute $ 4bn in retained earnings to investors. This takes its total dividend for 2021 to $ 75bn, not including bonus shares.