Øyvind's corner

Fourth quarter 2022: Lessons learned, optimism intact, and renewed preparedness

17. feb. 2023, 09:00

We entered 2022 with hopes of returns to normalcy and decreased volatility. We close off the year facing a fresh set of unprecedented crises. Highlighted by the ongoing war in Europe, shift in globalization, the uncertainty of the times, and fraying ties of the world economy, 2022 extended what will undoubtedly be remembered as a particularly disruptive period in human history. Gone is the sentiment of the last few decades, marked by political stability, free trade, affordable energy, and liberalization – a time where business has trumped politics. Instead, politics is now trumping business.

Today's business models are built on precisely the foundation of the period we now leave behind. Aker, and our global industry peers, are forced to reckon with a new reality. Countries and regions are looking inwards, prioritizing their own policies and energy production over cross-border collaboration. Policy experts, analysts, industry leaders and governments have all warned of the deepening divisions at a time when global collaboration is urgently needed to address far-reaching and complex problems of our times. Top of mind is a war in Europe with global ramifications, a global climate crisis, a European energy crisis, globalizing cost-of-living challenges, food insecurity, soaring inflation levels, and social and political polarization. 2022, unsurprisingly, ushered in the new term polycrisis. Collectively, the situations are converging to shape a new uncertain and volatile future. At a time when the world desperately – and urgently – needs to convene, protectionism, fragmentation, complexity, and uncertainty, are in many cases pushing agendas further apart.

As pillars of prosperity that have supported growth through several decades crumble, Aker is actively considering the long-term impact of a ‘new world order.’ Strategies are being challenged, established truths debunked. 2022 was not a year of return to normalcy, but a collective reality check. Companies are rethinking their way forward, while Europe is finding that it has been asleep at the wheel. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in the US, targeting $369 billion in spending on climate and energy policies, is nothing short of a game changer for green industrial growth at scale. The tax credits and incentives will unleash private investments in the US that threatens Europe’s edge in green industries and innovations. Only if it can establish a clear and ambitious industrial strategy that safeguards competitiveness, will the EU succeed in keeping industries of the future on its European shores. Recent measures warrant skepticism as it promises of less red tape. As the multinational financial services company Allianz recently noted, “an unbureaucratic EU is just an oxymoron.” Nonetheless, Aker welcomes Europe’s effort to move forward and substantially scale-up renewable technologies that are key for our continent’s energy independence. At the same time, we cautiously observe the results of increased protectionism, leading to significant regional differences and investment climates.

Simultaneously and synchronized, the US and Europe are taking actions to reduce their dependence on Russia and China who are openly challenging Western liberal values. Cost of energy soared in 2022. Moreover, the year brought the fastest, coinciding, and forceful tightening of monetary policies in recent memory. Geopolitical assumptions through more than 30 years are being tested. These and other issues made 2022 one of my most eventful years at the helm of Aker so far. Like our industry peers, we are forced to make strategic decisions under unprecedented unpredictability. We do not know what the future holds. At times like these, I turn to three steadfast pillars: 1) Aker’s method of work – playing to our strengths and acting countercyclically for long-term value creation; 2) fostering collaborations and partnerships for growth; and 3) Protecting our strong balance sheet, which enables Aker to maintain a steady course through periods of market volatility. As a result, Aker is a vital part of Norway’s unique starting point for contributing to solutions that can scale globally. Through 180 years, Aker has married our nation’s natural resources with our brightest minds. Norway has previously shown its ability to pull together when it matters most. By once again uniting politics and business, today's demanding tasks can become tomorrow's opportunities.

In light of the challenges presented in the last year, I can hardly think of a more critical time for Aker to be surrounded by organizations, leaders, private and public partners, and stakeholders in Norway who share a commitment to address issues that require true multidisciplinary, dynamic thinking. Collectively, we agree that Norwegian model of public-private collaboration is the recipe for success in developing industries for the future. All of us are facing up to the current geopolitical landscape and challenging macroeconomic picture. We agree that we need to speed up the transition to a more renewable energy system, bring about a competitive restructuring of Norwegian industry, and continue playing a key role for European and global energy markets. The role of Norway as a reliable supplier of oil and gas produced with the lowest environmental footprint possible, is a part of the solution for an indefinite period. Aker companies are driving forces in both current and future energy activities and will continue to push for public-private collaboration to leverage our nation’s enormous opportunity to be in the front seat of a new industrial era. In total, Norway already exports more energy per capita than Saudi Arabia. By upgrading and expanding existing sources of energy in parallel with developing new sources, like offshore wind, Norway’s role as a contributor to both energy security and energy transition may be even more vital.

Taking a moment to zoom in, I continue to be impressed by the engagement and desire to harness the power of collaboration and drive positive change across Aker’s portfolio companies. We are determined to contribute to the solutions at scale. A few developments from the last year worth mentioning:

  • The establishment of Industry Capital Partners (ICP), headed by Yngve Slyngstad, which will combine capital and industry in an unprecedented, integrated way to scale and fast-track the energy reset on a global scale.
  • Cognite and Aize, which are both working to connect the physical and the digital worlds to drive massive change through the industrial metaverse – helping industries contextualize and understand their data to operate more effectively and efficiently with a lower carbon footprint and energy consumption.
  • Aker BP merged with Lundin in Norway. Before year-end, the merged company submitted a record number of field development plans representing investments of more than NOK 200 billion. The plans underscore the company’s ambition to create the oil and gas company of the future – with low costs, low emissions, profitable growth, attractive returns, and increased export of both oil and gas to Europe.

These and other developments are carrying us into the new year with renewed optimism despite the turbulent times. Aker’s Net Asset Value ended the year at NOK 66.9 billion, down from NOK 69 billion at the end of the third quarter and down 1 percent, dividend adjusted, from NOK 69.8 billion at year-end 2021. The Aker share increased by 4 percent in the quarter, adjusted for dividend, to NOK 719.50. Aker’s Board will propose a payment of NOK 15.0 per share dividend for 2022 and will propose for the Annual General Meeting in April 2023 that the Board is authorized to pay additional dividend during 2023 based on the 2022 annual accounts. If a second tranche equals the proposed ordinary dividend for 2022 of NOK 15.0 per share, the total dividend paid during 2023 will be NOK 30.0 per share, a 4.2 percent yield to the share price and 3.3 percent of NAV at the close of 2022.

2022 was an unprecedented year, triggering crises and problems that decades of progress have sought to solve. As Winston Churchill once put it: “I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught”. It’s been a challenging year where we’ve been forced to look ourselves in the mirror. We enter 2023 with lessons learned, optimism intact, and renewed preparedness as we chart our collective course to a more resilient world.