Shell, Europe’s largest energy company, said Monday that it was proposing to move its headquarters to Britain from the Netherlands and make major changes in its share ownership and tax status.
The moves are designed to make the company, whose share price has lagged rivals, more appealing to investors, and they come less than a month after an activist investor, Daniel Loeb, suggested changes to the company’s structure. They are likely to be seen as a blow to the Netherlands, where Shell has an enormous presence, and a windfall for the British government as it struggles to demonstrate that Brexit can provide an economic boost.
Among the changes announced by the company, top management including the chief executive, Ben van Beurden, would move to Britain, where board meetings will be held. The company’s current dual British and Dutch share structure would also be melded into a single share.
If the changes are approved at a general meeting of shareholders scheduled for Dec. 10, Shell would also drop “Royal Dutch” from its name, saying “the company anticipates it will no longer meet the conditions for using the designation.”
The proposed changes appear to be an effort by management to enhance the appeal of the company’s shares as Shell, now based in The Hague, tries to navigate the difficult transition to cleaner energy from fossil fuels. Jessica Uhl, Shell’s chief financial officer, said recently that the company had not done well at explaining its strategy to investors.
Such shortcomings were highlighted recently in a letter that Mr. Loeb, the chief executive of Third Point, a New York-based fund management firm, wrote to investors. Mr. Loeb said that Shell lagged rivals like Exxon Mobil and Chevron in share price performance despite having a “higher quality and more sustainable business mix” and called for a breakup of the firm into renewable energy and legacy oil units. Third Point has taken a stake in Shell worth about $750 million, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Shell appears to be trying to address such concerns. In a news release Monday, Shell said a single share structure would be “simpler for investors to understand and value.” The company also said that the new arrangement would allow it to accelerate share buybacks by creating a larger pool of shares available for them.
In a letter published Monday, Shell’s board said that simplifying the legal structure would make it easier to sell assets and even to break up the company, although it said such a move was not “under active consideration.”
While Shell said in its news release that it would “continue to be a significant employer with a major presence in the Netherlands,” the company’s management has been frustrated with the Dutch authorities in recent years. The government has been gradually shutting down the huge Groningen gas field in the northern Netherlands because of earthquakes, and a Dutch court earlier this year ordered Shell to sharply reduce its worldwide emissions.
While Shell is moving to meet some parts of the court ruling, the company has said it would appeal. A move away from the Netherlands “would make it harder to claim that the Dutch Court has jurisdiction,” wrote analysts at Jefferies, an investment bank, in a note to clients on Monday.