Many of these risk factors are not within the Company’s control and could adversely affect our business, our financial and operating results or our financial condition. These risk factors include:
Supply and Demand
The oil, gas, and petrochemical businesses are fundamentally commodity businesses. This means ExxonMobil’s operations and earnings may be significantly affected by changes in oil, gas and petrochemical prices and by changes in margins on refined products. Oil, gas, petrochemical and product prices and margins in turn depend on local, regional and global events or conditions that affect supply and demand for the relevant commodity.
Economic conditions. The demand for energy and petrochemicals correlates closely with general economic growth rates. The occurrence of recessions or other periods of low or negative economic growth will typically have a direct adverse impact on our results. Other factors that affect general economic conditions in the world or in a major region, such as changes in population growth rates or periods of civil unrest, also impact the demand for energy and petrochemicals. Economic conditions that impair the functioning of financial markets and institutions also pose risks to ExxonMobil, including risks to the safety of our financial assets and to the ability of our partners and customers to fulfill their commitments to ExxonMobil.
Other demand-related factors. Other factors that may affect the demand for oil, gas and petrochemicals, and therefore impact our results, include technological improvements in energy efficiency; seasonal weather patterns, which affect the demand for energy associated with heating and cooling; increased competitiveness of alternative energy sources that have so far generally not been competitive with oil and gas without the benefit of government subsidies or mandates; and changes in technology or consumer preferences that alter fuel choices, such as toward alternative fueled vehicles.
Other supply-related factors. Commodity prices and margins also vary depending on a number of factors affecting supply. For example, increased supply from the development of new oil and gas supply sources and technologies to enhance recovery from existing sources tend to reduce commodity prices to the extent such supply increases are not offset by commensurate growth in demand. Similarly, increases in industry refining or petrochemical manufacturing capacity tend to reduce margins on the affected products. World oil, gas, and petrochemical supply levels can also be affected by factors that reduce available supplies, such as adherence by member countries to OPEC production quotas and the occurrence of wars, hostile actions, natural disasters, disruptions in competitors’ operations, or unexpected unavailability of distribution channels that may disrupt supplies. Technological change can also alter the relative costs for competitors to find, produce, and refine oil and gas and to manufacture petrochemicals.
Other market factors. ExxonMobil’s business results are also exposed to potential negative impacts due to changes in currency exchange rates, interest rates, inflation, and other local or regional market conditions. We generally do not use financial instruments to hedge market exposures.
Government and Political Factors
ExxonMobil's results can be adversely affected by political or regulatory developments affecting our operations.
Access limitations. A number of countries limit access to their oil and gas resources, or may place resources off-limits from development altogether. Restrictions on foreign investment in the oil and gas sector tend to increase in times of high commodity prices, when national governments may have less need of outside sources of private capital. Many countries also restrict the import or export of certain products based on point of origin.
Restrictions on doing business. As a U.S. company, ExxonMobil is subject to laws prohibiting U.S. companies from doing business in certain countries, or restricting the kind of business that may be conducted. Such restrictions may provide a competitive advantage to our non-U.S. competitors unless their own home countries impose comparable restrictions.
Lack of legal certainty. Some countries in which we do business lack well-developed legal systems, or have not yet adopted clear regulatory frameworks for oil and gas development. Lack of legal certainty exposes our operations to increased risk of adverse or unpredictable actions by government officials, and also makes it more difficult for us to enforce our contracts. In some cases these risks can be partially offset by agreements to arbitrate disputes in an international forum, but the adequacy of this remedy may still depend on the local legal system to enforce an award.
Regulatory and litigation risks. Even in countries with well-developed legal systems where ExxonMobil does business, we remain exposed to changes in law (including changes that result from international treaties and accords) that could adversely affect our results, such as increases in taxes or government royalty rates (including retroactive claims); price controls; changes in environmental regulations or other laws that increase our cost of compliance or reduce or delay available business opportunities (including changes in laws related to offshore drilling operations, water use, or hydraulic fracturing); adoption of regulations mandating the use of alternative fuels or uncompetitive fuel components; government actions to cancel contracts or renegotiate terms unilaterally; and expropriation. Legal remedies available to compensate us for expropriation or other takings may be inadequate. We also may be adversely affected by the outcome of litigation or other legal proceedings, especially in countries such as the United States in which very large and unpredictable punitive damage awards may occur.
Security concerns. Successful operation of particular facilities or projects may be disrupted by civil unrest, acts of sabotage or terrorism, and other local security concerns. Such concerns may require us to incur greater costs for security or to shut down operations for a period of time.
Climate change and greenhouse gas restrictions. Due to concern over the risk of climate change, a number of countries have adopted, or are considering the adoption of, regulatory frameworks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These include adoption of cap and trade regimes, carbon taxes, restrictive permitting, increased efficiency standards, and incentives or mandates for renewable energy. These requirements could make our products more expensive, lengthen project implementation times, and reduce demand for hydrocarbons, as well as shifting hydrocarbon demand toward relatively lower-carbon sources such as natural gas. Current and pending greenhouse gas regulations may also increase our compliance costs, such as for monitoring or sequestering emissions.
Government sponsorship of alternative energy. Many governments are providing tax advantages and other subsidies and mandates to make alternative energy sources more competitive against oil and gas. Governments are also promoting research into new technologies to reduce the cost and increase the scalability of alternative energy sources. We are conducting our own research efforts into alternative energy, such as through sponsorship of the Global Climate and Energy Project at Stanford University and research into hydrogen fuel cells and fuel-producing algae. Our future results may depend in part on the success of our research efforts and on our ability to adapt and apply the strengths of our current business model to providing the competitive energy products of the future. See “Management Effectiveness” below.
In addition to external economic and political factors, our future business results also depend on our ability to manage successfully those factors that are at least in part within our control. The extent to which we manage these factors will impact our performance relative to competition. For projects in which we are not the operator, we depend on the management effectiveness of one or more coventurers whom we do not control.
Exploration and development program. Our ability to maintain and grow our oil and gas production depends on the success of our exploration and development efforts. Among other factors, we must continuously improve our ability to identify the most promising resource prospects and apply our project management expertise to bring discovered resources on line on schedule.
Project management. The success of ExxonMobil’s Upstream, Downstream, and Chemical businesses depends on complex, long-term, capital intensive projects. These projects in turn require a high degree of project management expertise to maximize efficiency. Specific factors that can affect the performance of major projects include our ability to: negotiate successfully with joint venturers, partners, governments, suppliers, customers, or others; model and optimize reservoir performance; develop markets for project outputs, whether through long-term contracts or the development of effective spot markets; manage changes in operating conditions and costs, including costs of third party equipment or services such as drilling rigs and shipping; prevent, to the extent possible, and respond effectively to unforeseen technical difficulties that could delay project startup or cause unscheduled project downtime; and influence the performance of project operators where ExxonMobil does not perform that role.
Operational efficiency. An important component of ExxonMobil’s competitive performance, especially given the commodity-based nature of many of our businesses, is our ability to operate efficiently, including our ability to manage expenses and improve production yields on an ongoing basis. This requires continuous management focus, including technology improvements, cost control, productivity enhancements and regular reappraisal of our asset portfolio.
Research and development. To maintain our competitive position, especially in light of the technological nature of our businesses and the need for continuous efficiency improvement, ExxonMobil’s research and development organizations must be successful and able to adapt to a changing market and policy environment.
Safety, business controls, and environmental risk management. Our results depend on management’s ability to minimize the inherent risks of oil, gas, and petrochemical operations and to control effectively our business activities. We apply rigorous management systems and continuous focus to workplace safety and to avoiding spills or other adverse environmental events. For example, we work to minimize spills through a combined program of effective operations integrity management, ongoing upgrades, key equipment replacements, and comprehensive inspection and surveillance. Similarly, we are implementing cost-effective new technologies and adopting new operating practices to reduce air emissions, not only in response to government requirements but also to address community priorities. We also maintain a disciplined framework of internal controls and apply a controls management system for monitoring compliance with this framework. Substantial liabilities and other adverse impacts could result if our management systems and controls do not function as intended. The ability to insure against such risks is limited by the capacity of the applicable insurance markets, which may not be sufficient.
Preparedness. Our operations may be disrupted by severe weather events, natural disasters, human error, and similar events. For example, hurricanes may damage our offshore production facilities or coastal refining and petrochemical plants in vulnerable areas. Our ability to mitigate the adverse impacts of these events depends in part upon the effectiveness of our rigorous disaster preparedness and response planning, as well as business continuity planning.
Projections, estimates and descriptions of ExxonMobil’s plans and objectives included or incorporated in Items 1, 1A, 2, 7 and 7A of this report are forward-looking statements. Actual future results, including project completion dates, production rates, capital expenditures, costs and business plans could differ materially due to, among other things, the factors discussed above and elsewhere in this report.