Back in October, Harold Hamm predicted a win by Joe Biden in the US election would “strange and starve oil and gas.” Instead, he’s made a killing.
With shares of his Continental Resources Inc. more than doubling in the past six months, Hamm’s personal fortune has jumped this year by $3.3 billion to $8.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Sure, Biden won in November and is now promoting policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But crude prices have surged in recent months amid supply cuts and increased demand for natural gas to renewables as economies emerge from the Covid-19 crisis. Hamm, 75, who supported Donald Trump in the election, is one of the biggest gainers among energy billionaires.
Energy tycoons from the US to Russia and India have also boosted their fortunes. Their combined net worth climbed about $51 billion in the first quarter — or roughly 10 per cent — the fastest rate of any group in the Bloomberg index.
Leonid Mikhelson, 65, co-owner of the largest non-state-owned natural-gas provider in Russia, has added $3.8 billion in 2021, threatening to take over the top spot among the nation’s richest. India’s Gautam Adani has gained $23.3 billion this year — the most of anyone in the world.
The outlook for energy companies like Continental Resources -- which struggled last year -- has turned more positive, with Hamm’s shale-oil producer even expected to return to profitability.
At their meeting this week, OPEC+ members expressed confidence about the economic recovery and agreed to gradually increase oil production in the coming months. In February, JPMorgan Chase & Co. talked about a new supercycle for commodities, echoing similar comments from banks including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Oil has climbed 66 per cent in the past six months, and some bulls predict prices could once again top $100 a barrel by the end of next year.
“Higher oil prices translate directly into higher profits and increase these companies’ returns to their shareholders,” said Ryan Dusek, director at Opportune, a commodity risk-advisory group in Houston.
Still, the increasing focus on eco-friendly measures is threatening oil producers in the longer term. Biden wants to make the US electricity grid carbon-free by 2035, while China and the European Union aim to be carbon neutral by 2060 and 2050, respectively.
That’s why some companies have been boosting their green ambitions. Adani, who spent two decades building an empire centered around coal, has plans to increase his firm’s renewable-energy capacity almost eightfold by 2025 and has gotten backing from big players including French oil giant Total SE. Mikhelson’s Novatek PJSC, whose Yamal LNG plant in Russia’s Arctic has been operating above capacity, wants to clean up its output even as it more than triples production by the end of the decade.
Even with the recent energy gains, technology remains the main creator of wealth globally, with the wealthiest entrepreneurs in that industry adding $87.6 billion so far this year. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google parent Alphabet Inc., and Su Hua of Chinese video service Kuaishou Technology are among the top gainers after Adani.