In September, 2015 (5 years ago) I wrote that Tesla was going to change global oil demand. Why? Because Tesla had proven there was a market shift toward electric vehicles (EV’s). Yes, the market was small. But every major auto company had seen the trend emerge, and all had EV’s on the drawing tables. Simultaneously, this was showing a shift to “electrification” at the same time that solar energy costs were dropping in price similar to computer chips in the 1990s.
The combination of shifts away from internal combustion engine (ICE) automobiles operating on petroleum, and the growth in renewable energy production from solar and wind was becoming obvious. In sailing, there are small lengths of cloth attached to the sails specifically to obtain an early read on wind direction. These are called “telltales.” Looking at Tesla and growing renewable electricity generation, the telltales gave me confidence to specifically predict it would really hurt Exxon.
Now, 5 years later, most pundits think the world has reached “peak oil” usage, and demand for oil will only fall.Since 2015 Exxon’s equity value (XOM) has declined 65%. Due to declining demand, the company is being forced to restructure and possibly cut its dividend as the company shrinks.
Some would look only at short-term issues like the pandemic, but the economy in China has fully recovered – yet its demand for oil has not. Or some might say that oil prices are down only because Saudi Arabia and Russia are battling over market share – but this only portends more bad news for Exxon because 2 giants with the lowest cost battling for share will only make it harder for Exxon to sell products, even at a lower price and little or no margin.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has created an acceleration in the trends that are dooming profits for oil companies like Exxon. Once business happened in physical meetings where we transported ourselves by auto or plane fueled by oil. Now, meetings are being held on-line, virtually. Increasingly individuals, and companies, have learned not only how to use this technology but that they are more productive. Less wasted commuting time, less wasted hallway conversation time, fewer interruptions, and a recognition that it is possible to cut meeting time allowing attendees to better streamline work and decision-making. Speaking of work, virtual meetings are leading to better employee concentration due to better scheduling of time for meetings, and scheduling time for individual work.
Recall 2010 and the effort put into driving to work, or flying to meetings. Exxon, GM, Ford, Boeing, United Airlines and American Airlines were economic leaders, reflecting the work methods of the Industrial Era. Exxon was one of the 30 stocks on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. But the Great Recession had taken GM off the Dow, and now declining oil demand has removed Exxon – following the path I previously predicted.
Look at current 11/2020 market capitalizations:
Exxon – $133B
General Motors – $49B
Ford – $31B
Boeing – $83B
United Airlines – $10B
American Airlines – $6B
The world has changed. Trends have prevailed. We are now more mobile-oriented, work more asynchronously and use more gig resources. Now we connect by Zoom and travel on electrons.
Zoom market cap – $146B
Tesla market cap – $380B
Why this walk down the path of recent history? Markets shift – often a lot faster than we would like to imagine. The economic hurt on those left behind is enormous. The opportunity for new leaders even more enormous. On the back end of trends is a LOT of pain. On the front end of trends is a lot of happy, happy. It is incredibly important to pick out the telltales and incorporate them into your planning. Earlier rather than later. Let trends direct your investments and your business decisions – look forward not backward. You want to be Zoom or Tesla (or own the stocks,) not Exxon, GM or Boeing (nor own those stocks.)
If you don’t have a clear line of sight to the future, ask for help – it’s my job. Do you remember anyone else predicting this enormous shift back in 2015? Back then oil was $100/barrel and Exxon was trading at $100/share. More pundits were expecting the future to look like the past than to make a radical shift. But we are always looking at the early telltales, always developing new scenarios, always preparing for market shifts and their implications.
Did you see the trends, and were you expecting the changes that would happen to oil demand? It IS possible to use trends to make good forecasts, and prepare for big market shifts. If you don’t have time to do it, maybe you should contact us!! We track hundreds of trends, and are experts at developing scenarios applied to your business to help you make better decisions.