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Saudi Arabia’s state-controlled oil giant Aramco on Sunday reported a record net income of $161.1 billion for 2022 — the largest annual profit ever achieved by an oil and gas company.

Aramco said net income increased 46.5 percent over the year, from $110 billion in 2021. Free cash flow also reached a record $148.5 billion in 2022, compared with $107.5 billion in 2021. 

The results are nearly triple the profit that western oil major ExxonMobil posted for 2022, bolstered by soaring oil and gas prices through last year, along with higher sale volumes and improved margins for refined products. 

“Aramco delivered record financial performance in 2022, as oil prices strengthened due to increased demand around the world,” Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said in a press statement

Oil and gas prices surged at the start of last year, with western sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine steadily tightening access to Moscow’s supplies, particularly seaborne crude and oil products.

Oil prices have since pulled back more than 25% year-on-year, with hot inflation and rising interest rates overshadowing a more bullish demand outlook from China. Brent and WTI prices fell 6% last week alone. Brent last traded at around $80 dollars per barrel. 

Aramco raised its fourth-quarter dividend by 4% to $19.5 billion, to be paid in the first quarter of 2023. Aramco also said it would issue bonus shares to eligible shareholders as a result. 

Underinvestment risk

Nasser also used the results release to repeat his warning about “persistent underinvestment” in the hydrocarbons sector. 

“Given that we anticipate oil and gas will remain essential for the foreseeable future, the risks of underinvestment in our industry are real, including contributing to higher energy prices,” Nasser said on Sunday, echoing comments made during a recent interview with CNBC. 

At both a ministerial and Aramco level, Saudi Arabia has been a proponent of avoiding short-term fuel shortages through the dual funding of fossil fuel supplies and the green transition. CEO Amin Nasser on March 3 told CNBC that a “persistent underinvestment in oil upstream and even downstream is still there,” signaling potential growth demand from the aviation sector and the reopening of China.

Aramco said average hydrocarbon production last year was 13.6 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, including 11.5 million barrels per day of total liquids. Saudi Arabia most recently produced 10.39 million barrels per day of crude oil in January, the International Energy Agency found in the February issue of its Oil Market Report.

As chair of the influential OPEC+ producers’ alliance, Saudi Arabia has been leading by example the group’s efforts to collectively reduce their output targets by 2 million barrels per day, agreed in October and reaffirmed at technical and ministerial meetings since. The group’s move towards limiting supply availabilities has put OPEC+ at odds with some international consumers, sparking a war of words with Washington towards the end of the last year, as U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration stressed the need to easing the burden on households.

Growth horizon

The company reaffirmed it would continue to invest to increase its maximum production capacity to 13 million barrels a day by 2027.

Capital expenditure rose by 18% to $37.6 billion last year, and is expected to increase to $45 billion to $55 billion in the coming years, anticipating increases “until around the middle of the decade.”

“Our focus is not only on expanding oil, gas and chemicals production, but also investing in new lower-carbon technologies with potential to achieve additional emission reductions in our own operations and for end users of our products,” Nasser said.