Shell-shocked: a whale trade in corporate bonds

6 minute read

In “Big Oil’s terrible day: Bond market (non-) reactions”, AFII, 1 June 2021, we argued that the controversy at the time around legal issues for Shell (RDSALN) motivated an underweight on their long-dated USD bonds, more specifically the RDSALN $3.25 04/50 (US822582CH36) bond. Since October, the bond has widened significantly from 120bp to >150bp. Paired with an underwhelming new issue last week, it would be a stretch to call sentiment bullish even if energy markets are bouyant. To further entrench any cautious views on these bonds, investors need only turn their eyes to the controversy brewing in South Africa.

In what seems almost unprecedented action, local petrol stations have started defranchising themselves from the Shell brand. Why? Shell is starting seismic exploration for oil and gas resources off the East Coast of South Africa. AFII and the IEA may disagree with the company’s urgency to find more oil and gas, and the optics of this so soon after COP26 are not ideal. Regardless, the potential broader implications of seismic surveys on marine life are disconcerting and at the core of ongoing local protests in South Africa.

Therefore, we retain our underweight stance on the old as well as the new long-end USD bonds. This project runs the risk of being counter-productive towards net zero goals considering recent evidence that marine life, especially whales, may be one of the more efficient and practical Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) mechanisms.