April 26, 2016 03:06 PM

Oil industry giant Exxon Mobil has been hit with its first downgrade since the Great Depression, ending its 86-year streak of perfect AAA ratings.

Citing the extended low oil price environment and the high cost of maintaining oil operations, Standard & Poor’s confirmed the downgrade to AA+ on April 26. Exxon Mobil traces its roots to the 19th century and John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust.

“We get value from our AAA credit rating in our business,” Exxon’s Vice President of Investor Relations Jeffrey Woodbury said during a conference call with analysts before the credit downgrade was announced, Bloomberg reported. “Whether it be access to financial markets or access to resources, there is a benefit that we get from it, and we see it as being important.”

The world’s five largest oil explorers have had their credit ratings cut or threatened with downgrade as the market crash undermines their ability to pay debts, dividends and rig leases. For most of the oil industry, slashing drilling budgets and other cost-cutting “are insufficient to stem the meaningful deterioration expected in credit measures over the next few years,” S&P said.

Indeed International Business Times says the difficult operating environment wasn’t all that S&P singled out in its analysis. Also weighing on Exxon’s creditworthiness was the company’s high dividend and share buyback spending.
“The company’s debt level has more than doubled in recent years, reflecting high capital spending on major projects in a high commodity price environment and dividends and share repurchases that substantially exceeded internally generated cash flow,” S&P said.

Exxon’s track record of doling out billions of dollars to shareholders has long made it a darling stock of investors. Over the past decade, the Irving, Texas-based company has repurchased $210 billion of its own stock, a boon to existing shareholders who see their profit per share increase.
Read the IB Times story here.

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