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Pressing questions: Can Shell rebuild its reputation? Is Shell a takeover play?

The Times: Pressing questions: “Can Shell rebuild its reputation?”: “Is Shell a takeover play?”: “Why did the auditors not resign when they questioned the booking of gas reserves in 1998?”: “Should they resign now?”

August 25, 2004

Can Shell rebuild its reputation?

It will take time, ingenuity and luck — all sadly lacking at present. The company’s main problem is it has not been finding oil because of poor strategic decisions in the past. Rebuilding by exploration alone could take a decade. Shell could buy reserves but would pay dearly.

Is Shell a takeover play?

City bankers would love a big deal but Shell is too large to tempt all but three companies. ExxonMobil and BP would face huge antitrust problems. Total might escape competition problems but it is smaller than Shell and would need the blessing of Dutch institutions.

How hard will the fines hit Shell’s balance sheet?

A pinprick — with oil approaching $50 a barrel, Shell has more cash flowing into its coffers than it knows what to do with.

But multibillion lawsuits loom?

Only if the major European and US pension funds join litigation. Their main concern is to restore Shell’s share price, not pay contingency fees to US lawyers.

Have the regulators finished with the company?

With the company, yes, but inquiries continue on both sides of the Atlantic into the role of senior individuals.

Why did the auditors not resign when they questioned the booking of gas reserves in 1998?

The role of Shell’s outside auditors, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers, is a mystery that is only beginning to be explored.

Should they resign now?

They were keeping mum last night, but the issue is not going to go away.

Will Shell’s rivals get caught up in the fallout?

BP may face questions from the SEC about its booking of reserves at the Ormen Lange gasfield. The US congress is making noises about more regulation.

Is Shell still a training ground for the British business establishment?

British boardrooms are packed with Shell alumni but their lustre is dimmed.

So where next for Shell?

A long, hard slog back to credibility.

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