Surplus profits: indecency or good business?

The exceptional profits generated by the major energy groups in the midst of a crisis are revolting. But isn’t the difficulty of setting up a tax on superprofits the witness of a certain impotence?

In recent weeks, they have fallen like so many slaps in the face of consumers stunned by the explosion of their energy bills. The quarterly and half-yearly results of the major oil and energy groups in the broad sense have indeed broke all records, crowning their beneficiaries with the title of great winners of the crisis (and of the war).

Indecent, even, if we are to believe many observers, officials and commentators, who remained helpless in the face of the jackpot hit by the energy giants. But for all that, the large groups have not all popped the champagne. Admittedly, some, like Total Energies and BP, are embarking on vast share buyback programs and undertake to distribute interim dividends but others, like Engie, prefer to remain cautious and do not raise their forecasts for the year. It must be said that uncertainty remains great as to the future evolution of prices (especially in the case of oil) and there is no guarantee that the party will last until December.

Take advantage of opportunities

In the first half of the year, market uncertainty and volatility gave rise to opportunity. In the case of gas, for example, where prices on the wholesale markets are still extraordinarily high, producers have actually “optimized their positions”that is to say that they resold their previously purchased molecules with a substantial added value.

In the first half of the year, market uncertainty and volatility gave rise to opportunity.

Except that since then, the pressure on the consumer has only increased. And the prospect of taxing the superprofits of nuclear, gas and renewables has become the last lever to be used by authorities who are running out of imagination.. Problem: the very notion of superprofits is difficult to define in a completely liberalized system, where, as in any other sector, players strive to take advantage of opportunities and protect themselves from risks. And let’s not forget that the major private energy groups are not intended to act in the consumer’s interest, even if the products they market and the services they provide are essential.


Consequently, the finding of indecency, the feeling of injustice and disgust are undoubtedly justified. But unless the definition of a surplus profit is refined and the legal contracts previously signed with the operators are broken, it seems difficult to go beyond the simple acknowledgment of failure..

Again, this is the principle of risk and benefit sharing between private and public which seems to be the only alternative in the future. But in the meantime, it will be necessary to agree to contemplate indecency.

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