Cash Crunch Clouds Future for Oil Firms

The world’s biggest oil companies are struggling to generate enough cash to cover their spending and dividends, despite efforts to slash billions of dollars from their budgets in the face of tumbling oil prices.

Shell, Exxon, Chevron and BP are dealing with a 16-month slump in oil prices.Spending on new projects, share buybacks and dividends at four of the biggest oil companies known as the supermajors— Royal Dutch Shell PLC, BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp.—outstripped cash flow by more than a combined $20 billion in the first half of 2015, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.

Analysts say they expect the companies to reveal continuing shortfalls when they report earnings this week, after a third quarter in which oil prices fell to their lowest levels since the financial crisis. Brent crude, the global benchmark, averaged roughly $50 a barrel in the third quarter, compared with more than $60 a barrel in the second and around $100 in 2014.