When Exxon Mobil Corp. struck the biggest deal of a $300 billion wave of oil mergers during the brutal late-1990s crude price collapse, Mobil CEO Lou Noto gave a warning to the industry.

“We need to face some facts,” he said as he announced his company’s takeover. “The world has changed, the easy things are behind us. The easy oil, the easy cost savings, they’re done. So all of us are now looking for some way to make a jump.”

Now the finances of the supermajors those deals created are in tatters, just as the rise of clean energy and doubts about long-term oil demand force another existential reckoning—and the prospect of megamergers is on the cards again. Exxon Mobil, Chevron Corp., BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc recorded more than $50 billion in losses between them last year, as the pandemic-driven crash in oil demand crushed crude prices and forced them to slash their spending plans.

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