[NEW YORK] Exxon Mobil Corp's accounting has prompted a US Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into whether the energy giant should have written down assets as a result of the oil slump, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
The SEC is the latest government body to question why the world's largest energy explorer by market value has been immune from the multi-billion dollar writedowns that have afflicted rival oil and natural gas producers.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other states including Massachusetts have been conducting similar probes since last year. The inquiries stem from larger questions about whether Exxon has for decades failed to alert investors about potential climate-change risks for a company with annual sales that could rival the world's top 50 national economies.
"We still do not expect it to have a material impact in the longer term," said Brian Youngberg, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co in St Louis.
"Non-cash impairment charges tend to have little impact on share prices because investors realise impairments do not actually change the potential for the oil or natural gas to be produced some day."
Exxon shares fell 1.5 percent to US$82.54 at the close in New York, wiping out more than US$5 billion in market value.
Exxon's media-relations office didn't respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment. Last week, a spokesman said the company hasn't written down the value of its oil and gas fields because Exxon expects them to yield value over the long term.
Judy Burns, an SEC spokeswoman, declined to comment.
The SEC asked Exxon in September 2013 why the company hadn't conducted an asset-impairment review amid plunging natural gas prices. Exxon responded that no assessment was necessary, based on the strength of its future cash flow projections.
The SEC didn't pursue the issue further, correspondence posted on the agency's website showed.
The Wall Street Journal earlier on Tuesday reported on the SEC inquiry.