It seems like every time we announce ExxonMobil’s earnings, critics jump on soapboxes to demand that we and others in the industry pay more in taxes, predictably calling for the repeal of so-called “subsidies” to the industry that are nothing more than standard tax provisions.
Amid the cacophony that’s just going to get louder as we approach the election, let me offer some perspective about our earnings that should put these claims in context – context that helps explain how we earn our money, where we earn it, and what we do with it.
We are the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas company, providing energy that helps underpin growing economies and improve living standards around the world. Yes, ExxonMobil reports big earnings. But, the share of our earnings that came from the United States during the second quarter was only 12 percent, a figure that gives a good sense of the size and scale of the global energy market. The U.S. percentage is usually about twice that size – roughly 20 to 25 percent of our global earnings – but was lower this time around as a result of proceeds from asset sales in other parts of our business.
The amount of money we make selling gasoline to American motorists is relatively small as well. Our U.S. downstream operations – which include refining, shipping and selling gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other products – represent about 5 percent of ExxonMobil’s global earnings. Put another way, 95 percent of the money we make has nothing to do with the way most Americans come into contact with our business.
$1 billion per month in taxes
Now that you know what we make, let’s look at how much government makes.
Despite the small percentage of our business that’s in the United States, we sure pay a lot of taxes here. We earned $2 billion in the United States during the second quarter of this year, but our U.S. tax expenses were over $3 billion. That amounts to about $1 billion a month and while it includes gasoline and sales taxes, it doesn’t include royalties, bonuses and lease payments.
During the second quarter of this year, for every gallon of gasoline and other products ExxonMobil refined and sold in the United States, the company earned less than nine cents. At the same time, the federal and state governments took in 40 to 60 cents per gallon in gasoline taxes.
I have pointed out before that the entire U.S. oil and gas industry pays the federal government approximately $86 million a day – or about $31 billion a year – in rents, royalties, bonuses and corporate taxes.
Over the past five years, ExxonMobil’s total U.S. tax expense was $57 billion, which is $18 billion more than the company earned in the United States during the same period.
When I hear talk of subsidies, I wonder just who is subsidizing whom.
Rewarding shareholders and investing in the future
Another important piece of context is the amount of money we return to our shareholders – 88 percent of whom are located in the United States – in the form of dividends and share repurchases. We distributed nearly $15 billion to shareholders so far this year, which includes dividends per share that are up 21 percent over last year. That makes a big difference to millions of individual shareholders as well as millions more whose pension funds or retirement plans hold our shares.
We also invest huge sums to ensure the world will have the energy supplies needed to meet future demand. In fact, so far this year, we’ve spent $18.2 billion on capital investments in new energy supplies – a record amount. All told, we plan to invest about $37 billion each year over the next five years to help meet the global energy demand. And it’s been recognized by some. The Progressive Policy Institute recently called ExxonMobil a “hero” for investing in America’s future.
Higher taxes lead to lower returns, investment
Not surprisingly, some critics repeated their vow today in the face of oil company earnings to “eliminate oil subsidies.” As I’ve explained before, they aren’t subsidies, but rather standard business deductions available to most American manufacturers. In fact, the deductions available to major oil and gas companies were previously reduced, and are now significantly smaller than those claimed by all other manufacturers.
Removing these longstanding deductions solely for companies like ExxonMobil would harm our ability to compete, and would harm our ability to reward our shareholders and to invest in new energy supplies.
I’ve written many times about the beneficial impact our industry has had on the struggling U.S. economy. Why would anyone want to hamstring the industry that’s investing in America, creating jobs and delivering new government revenues that pay for roads and vital services like police, teachers and firefighters?
Higher taxes would mean smaller returns for shareholders. They’d mean reduced capital investment, which would translate into fewer jobs and less economic growth. Without that investment, our ability to develop future energy sources energy will be constrained, which could put upward pressure on prices.
Think about that the next time you hear the predicable cry to increase taxes on oil companies.