The total debt held by four of world’s largest oil companies has hit a record high.
According to data collected by the Wall Street Journal, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Chevron now hold a combined $184 billion in net debt.
That figure is twice the combined debt level seen when oil prices first began falling in 2014 and is the highest combined debt level on record, the Journal said.
The four firms included in the paper’s analysis have assured investors that they will be able to generate enough profits to cover new investments and dividends next year.
However, the Journal’s analysis found that the four majors fell $40 billion short of their combined cash generation goals in the first half of this year.
All four of the firms included in the paper’s analysis reported year-over-year profit declines in the second quarter.
Shell saw its earnings sink to an 11-year low in the second quarter while Chevron reported its worst quarterly profit in nearly 13 years.
ExxonMobil reported a 59 percent year-over-year earnings decline and BP posted a $1.41 billion loss for the second quarter.
Despite oil prices still hovering below the $50 per barrel mark, major oil firms have been reluctant to cut dividends and have turned to spending and job cuts to cope with the price rout.
According to the Journal, Exxon, Shell, BP and Chevron spent more than 100 percent of their profits on dividends in 2015.
Gearing ratios at major oil firms have also climbed since oil prices sank below the $50 per barrel mark.
According to data collected by the Wall Street Journal, Shell’s debt-to-equity ratio has climbed to 28 percent from about 10 percent in 2012.
Exxon’s gearing ratio has grown to about 18 percent compared to 1.2 percent four years ago, the paper said.
However, some investors believe larger firms will be able to sustain their current dividend levels for at least another year to a year and a half even if prices fail to fully recover.
“They’re so big, they can diversify, they have more levers to push and pull in terms of shoring up their creditworthiness,” senior fixed-income portfolio manager at Wilmington Trust Wilmer Stith told the Wall Street Journal.