ExxonMobil beats profit expectations

City A.M. Reporter
ExxonMobil yesterday reported a fourth-quarter profit that topped Wall Street expectations as natural gas projects boosted results at the largest US oil company’s exploration arm.

Still, Exxon’s net income fell 23 per cent as weak demand for fuel in the global economic slowdown caused a loss in its refining business.

Oil and gas production increased nearly two per cent in the quarter to 4.18m barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) per day--better than some analysts had expected--helped by production from Exxon’s massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects in Qatar.

Exxon is also investing in natural gas closer to home. The company has said it plans to buy XTO Energy for about $30bn (£18.8bn) in stock in a big bet on North America’s fast-growing natural gas industry.

Exxon and other companies that process oil into gasoline, diesel and heating oil have seen refining margins crushed as crude prices climbed more than 30 per cent in a quarter where industrial demand was depressed by economic weakness.

Net income in the quarter was $6.05bn or $1.27 per share, compared with $7.82bn, or $1.54 per share in the same period a year earlier.

Exxon’s worldwide refining unit had a loss of $189m, compared with a year-ago profit of $2.41bn.

Exxon’s chemical earnings were $716m, up sharply from $155m the 2008 fourth quarter. The company’s exploration arm earned $5.78bn, up from $5.63bn a year ago. Revenue in the quarter rose six per cent to $89.84bn. Exploration and capital spending totaled $27.1bn in 2009, up nearly four per cent from a year ago. The company has said it expects to spend $25bn to $30bn each year over the next five years.

UK-based rivals BP will report today and Royal Dutch Shell on Thursday.