Exxon CEO: Trump tariffs move us 'in the opposite direction' from tax cut and deregulation benefits

Key Points
  • Trump's tariff plan could undo some of his "positive steps," Exxon Mobil chief Darren Woods says.
  • Woods, who took over in 2017 after Rex Tillerson became secretary of State, doesn't see Exxon investment plans changing.
  • Woods expects dividend hikes in the near term to be "somewhere between" about 3 percent and 8 percent.
Exxon CEO: Tariffs make us less competitive
Exxon CEO: Tariffs make us less competitive

President Donald Trump's tariff plan could undo some of the "positive steps" that businesses experienced from the GOP corporate tax cut and deregulation, Exxon Mobil Chairman and CEO Darren Woods told CNBC.

Exxon's long-range investment plans, such as last year's announcement to spend $20 billion through 2022 to expand chemical and oil refining plants along the Gulf Coast, were "facilitated or enhanced by the deregulation and the lowering of the tax rate," Woods said Wednesday in an interview after the oil giant's analyst day in New York.

But the president's plan to impose import tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum "takes us back in the opposite direction," said Woods, who became chief executive in January 2017 after his predecessor Rex Tillerson left to become Trump's secretary of State.

A week ago, Trump unveiled his intention to impose the tariffs, which are set to be implemented this week. Republicans have been imploring the president not to go through with them.

Late Tuesday, top White House economic advisor Gary Cohn announced his resignation after clashing with protectionist forces within the administration over the tariffs.

In a last ditch effort to change Trump's mind, 107 Republican members of Congress signed a letter "urging" him to scale back the tariffs and focus his attention on the real unfair trade culprit, China.

The White House has evolved its position somewhat, signally possible exemptions for Canada and Mexico. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday told reporters that "carve outs" would be made on "case by case" and "country by country" bases. Trump's announcement last week had seemed to provide little daylight for exemptions.

Asked whether the headwinds from the tariffs would change Exxon's investment plans, Woods said, "At this point I don't see us doing that."

Exxon Mobil CEO: We plan to more than double earnings by 2025
Exxon Mobil CEO: We plan to more than double earnings by 2025

At Wednesday's analyst day, Exxon laid out a goal to double annual earnings by 2025 through heavier investments: $24 billion in capital expenditures this year, $28 billion next year and an average of $30 billion from 2023 to 2025.

However, Exxon shares fell to their lowest level in more than two years on Wednesday after the company said the spending would not boost near-term production. Investors who had expected large share buybacks were disappointed that executives did not announce any.

Woods told CNBC he expects dividend hikes in the near term to be "somewhere between" last year's increase of about 3 percent and historical increases of 7 percent to 8 percent.

— Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report.