Oil and natural gas earnings are good news for your pension

The same is true of many public pension funds around the country, according to a new report API commissioned from economic advisory firm Sonecon and conducted by Robert Shapiro, former Undersecretary of Commerce for President Bill Clinton. The study showed that the oil and natural gas stocks held in these pension funds sharply outperformed the funds’ other assets. 

In Michigan, oil and natural gas stocks make up 4.8 percent of the two largest pension funds, but are responsible for 12.2 percent of the funds’ returns.

People often associate stock ownership with Wall Street insiders, but the reality is that ownership of oil and natural gas companies is more middle class than investor class. Individual investors own 23 percent of these companies. Most of the rest is held by mutual funds, IRAs and pension funds. If you have one of these, chances are you are one of the 130 million Americans that own a piece of an oil company.

In fact, less than two percent of these companies are owned by officers and board members, the so-called “insiders.” 

It’s no accident that across the globe, companies that drill for, and distribute, oil and natural gas are among the world’s biggest companies. The big numbers around earnings of oil and natural gas companies are a reflection of the companies’ size. 

They’re big because they have to be. There is robust competition between oil companies in the U.S. And these companies have to compete with state-owned giants in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. Mom-and-pop oil companies wouldn’t stand a chance against those monoliths. Only companies with significant revenues and capital can match up against the world’s leading oil producers.

America’s oil and natural gas industry supplies 60 percent of the energy used to power our $14 trillion economy. That helps explain why our 5 largest members are all in the top 20 of the Forbes Global 500 list of the world’s largest public companies (three foreign oil companies also make the top 20).

Extracting oil and natural gas from the earth is not easy, quick or cheap. Long lead times on investments are a given for our industry. Massive capital investments face very real risks and returns are generally only realized decades later. Since 2000, our industry has invested over 2 trillion dollars in U.S. capital projects.

Some believe more taxes on oil and natural gas are needed to offset earnings deemed “too large” and help pay for government spending. In the long run, more taxes on the industry won’t bring down gas prices or close the deficit. If lawmakers add an additional $5 billion in taxes – like many propose – it could result in a reduction in government revenue of $128 billion by 2025. Higher taxes will take jobs too, and one study shows we’d lose 170,000 jobs by 2014.

If that weren’t enough, this new report indicates that higher taxes on oil and gas might also take a bite out of your pension.

With unrest spreading in the Middle East and with China gobbling up oil supplies around the world, America needs more access to domestic oil and natural gas reserves, both onshore and offshore. The administration has been slow to recognize this need and is keeping many productive areas off limits.

This should change. The results could be good news for our economy, good news for our energy security and good news for your pension.

Jack Gerard is the president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.

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