Fitch has warned that the earnings of seven oil majors in Europe, the Middle East and Africa could fall by 22 per cent this year, as the firms continue to be pummelled by the commodities rout.
It would come after a 34 per cent drop in 2015, which the credit ratings agency described as a severe, although not disastrous decline against a bleak backdrop of plummeting oil prices.
Oil prices fell from over $110 per barrel in the middle of 2014, to a multi-year low of $27 in January. They've since increased to around $40 per barrel, and a number of analysts, traders and organisations believe that the market is beginning to recover.
Fitch is rating oil firms through the cycle, and is focused more on 2018, when it expects the current cycle to be past its trough. By this time companies would've been able to adjust their operating profiles to the tougher business environment.
It has four firms — Shell, Total, OMV and Repsol — on negative watch, with their leverage likely to be close to its negative rating action trigger by 2018.
"Maintaining the ratings will depend on companies being able to successfully implement the spending and disposal plans we currently assume, or on a stronger than assumed oil price recovery," Fitch said.