Shell faces pressure to steer away from its legacy business

Shell

Raysonho | commons.wikimedia.org

Adham Elshaabiny

Royal Dutch Shell PLC faced pressure from activist investors, urging the company to split up to satisfy the stakeholders’ demands on Oct. 28.

Daniel Loeb, activist investor and chief executive of Third Point LLC, an activist investor hedge fund, urged Shell’s executive board to split the company into two separate entities to bring more focus on the liquified natural gas and renewables and steer away from its legacy oil and gas business. Third Point currently holds a $750 million stake in Shell.

In a letter to the investors, Loeb stressed how the different visions that stakeholders have for Shell are harming the company as it leads them nowhere.

“In our view, Shell has too many competing stakeholders pushing it in too many different directions, resulting in an incoherent, conflicting set of strategies attempting to appease multiple interests but satisfies none,” Loeb said.

Shell’s shares fell significantly at the beginning of 2020 and continue to fall as the company recently reported a third-quarter loss.

From a financial standpoint, the idea of splitting up seems beneficial and interesting to many stakeholders. However, some shareholders are skeptical of where they would stand in a market they have no competitive advantage in.

Loeb’s idea is that by breaking from the oil and gas business, they would be able to achieve more in liquefied-natural gas and renewable energy as the new company will be able to attract more investors. Ben van Beurden, Shell’s chief executive officer, disagreed with Loeb and stood by the company’s current strategy. The main source of funding for Shell’s cleaner energy transition is going to be dependent on the company’s legacy business, Van Beurden claimed.

“We are able to do things with the collections of assets, business models [and] customer-facing businesses that we have that is very hard to replicate if you were just [to] split up in a number of other companies,” Van Beurden said to reporters.

Shell is facing pressure not only from investors, but also from environmental groups and governments to speed up its transition process. Earlier this year, a Dutch court ruled that Shell must cut its operational emission by 45% by 2030, compared with 2019 levels, while making best efforts to also achieve this on its products.

Shell is facing a crossroads right now, and it must be decisive on whether it should meet stakeholders’ demands or ensure that the company still exists in the future.