Understanding Oil and Gas Profit Margins

Understanding Oil and Gas Profit Margins

5 Min.

The average profit margin for companies in the oil and gas drilling sector fluctuates due to the volatility of oil and gas prices. Two key measures, net profit margin, and operating profit margin, are used to assess profitability. Recent data shows a significant improvement in profit margins, particularly in Q4 2021. The broader economic impact of oil and gas profits is evident in contributions to GDP and corporate earnings. However, the sector's profitability continues to be a subject of debate, with discussions focusing on subsidies, energy prices, and investor preferences for dividends and share repurchases.


The oil and gas industry is of paramount importance to the global economy, making it crucial for investors and policymakers to comprehend the financial health of companies within this sector. Profit margins are a vital metric in this context, often influencing investment decisions and becoming a contentious political subject when gasoline prices surge.

The Volatility of Oil & Gas Profit Margins

Oil and gas profit margins are exceptionally sensitive to the revenue generated from oil and gas sales, which are commodities notorious for their price volatility. Consequently, profit margins within this sector tend to fluctuate significantly. This volatility means that while they are valuable for identifying recent trends, there may be more suitable bases for long-term investment or policy decisions.

Net Profit Margin vs. Operating Profit Margin

Understanding the key concepts of net and operating profit margins is essential for a comprehensive analysis of the oil and gas sector.

  • Net Profit Margin: This margin is determined by dividing a company's net income (the difference between revenue and expenses) by revenue. The formula for net profit margin percentage is:

    Net Profit Margin Percentage = [(Revenue – Cost of Goods Sold – Operating Expenses – Other Expenses – Interest – Taxes) / Revenue] X 100
  • Operating Profit Margin: In contrast, operating profit margin is calculated by dividing operating income (the difference between revenue and the sum of cost of goods sold, operating expenses, and depreciation) by revenue. The formula for the operating profit margin percentage is as follows:

    Operating Profit Margin Percentage = [(Revenue – Cost of Goods Sold – Operating Expenses – Depreciation, Depletion & Amortization) / Revenue] X 100

One key distinction between these two measures is that the operating profit margin excludes interest, taxes, and non-operating expenses, except for depreciation, depletion, and amortization (DD&A). This difference is crucial as oil and gas producers often report significant non-cash DD&A expenses, leading to a potential understatement of cash flow available for dividends, share repurchases, and capital spending.

Oil and Gas Drilling Profit Margins: Recent Insights

An examination of profit margins in the oil and gas drilling sector reveals intriguing data, showcasing the sector's resilience and adaptability.

Q4 2021: A Remarkable Turnaround

In Q4 2021, the average net margin for oil and gas production stood at an impressive 31.3%, as reported by CSIMarket. This marked a substantial upswing from the previous quarters, which saw margins at 3.2% in Q3, -1.4% in Q2, and a drastic -22% in Q1. The 12-month trailing average for the year settled at a solid 4.7%.

A different dataset based on fiscal year 2020 accounting data calculated the average net profit margin for the oil and gas production and exploration sector to be approximately 2.8%.

Operating Profit Margin: A Lucrative Perspective

The operating margin for oil and gas production during Q4 2021 reached an impressive 44.4%, according to CSIMarket. The full-year statistics were equally compelling, with margins at 23%. For oil and gas exploration and production stocks included in the S&P 500 index, the aggregate operating profit margin was a commendable 19.6% during the same quarter, as reported by Yardeni Research.

Oil & Gas Profit Trends: A Broader Economic View

Expanding our perspective, we can assess the impact of oil and gas profits on the broader economy, taking into account not only the upstream drillers but also midstream and downstream activities.

GDP Contribution

According to the broadest measure used to calculate the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), aggregate corporate profits from petroleum and coal products displayed significant growth. The seasonally adjusted annual rate increased to $11.2 billion in Q3 2021, up from $2.7 billion in Q2 2021, and a stark reversal from the $55.6 billion annual rate of losses in Q3 2020. These figures encompass midstream profits from shipping and storing crude, as well as downstream income from refining it, in addition to the profits of upstream oil and gas drillers.

Corporate Earnings

The reported net profits of 41 large publicly traded oil and gas producers and refiners in Q3 2021 amounted to a substantial $16.7 billion, representing a significant recovery from a loss of $16.7 billion during the same period a year earlier. Chevron Corporation (CVX) alone reported impressive earnings of $5.1 billion in Q4 2021, with annual fiscal 2021 earnings totaling $15.6 billion. Furthermore, Chevron demonstrated a strong financial position with $29.2 billion in annual cash flow from operations, free cash flow of $21.1 billion, and a notable allocation of $11.6 billion towards dividends and share repurchases.


The analysis of profit margins in the oil and gas drilling sector highlights its adaptability and resilience, showcasing recent impressive turnarounds. These profits play a crucial role in the broader economy, significantly contributing to GDP and corporate earnings. However, there is an ongoing debate regarding the allocation of these profits. Critics propose subsidies or increased production to lower energy prices, while investors prefer share repurchases and dividends. This multi-faceted debate reflects the economic, political, and investment aspects of the oil and gas sector, making it an enduring topic of interest for stakeholders.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
Chevron Corporation (CVX)
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