This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," October 17, 2005, that was edited for clarity.
NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: As yet another storm pumps up the price of crude on Monday, lots of people questioning jacked-up prices at the pump and the big profits that big oil is making throughout, like ExxonMobil (XOM).
Its chairman and CEO, Lee Raymond, joins us now to try to set the record straight in an exclusive chat.
Mr. Raymond, good to have you.
LEE RAYMOND, CHAIRMAN & CEO, EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION: Neil, good to be here.
CAVUTO: You have heard all the talk. You are gouging folks.
RAYMOND: No. I don't think that's the case at all.
We operate in a commodity market. Commodity markets, as all of us know, whether it's oil or orange juice or coffee or copper, or whatever it is, go through strong cycles. There are periods of very weak prices. And, then, from time to time, there are periods of very strong prices. We're at one right now. Supply-demand is very tight, very narrow.
And, under those circumstances, as in all commodities, what will happen is, very small changes, or a perception of even change, as the traders today on the oil markets would indicate, can lead to wide swings in prices.
CAVUTO: But, are these unusually wide swings? And do you find your profits, at tens of billions of dollars a year, unusually large?
RAYMOND: Unusually large, in the sense of I think numbers that people don't relate to, but, when you look at past cycles, not unusual, in the sense of 20, 30 years and inflation that goes all along with that.
The other comment I would make that people need to understand about a company like ours is, only about a quarter of our profits come from the United States. Three-quarters of our profits come from outside the United States. In terms of, actually, companies that make money in the United States, there are a number of companies that make more money in the United States than we do.
CAVUTO: On a percentage of revenues, right?
RAYMOND: Yes, on percentage or in total dollars.
CAVUTO: All right. But let me ask you, Mr. Raymond, there is concern in Congress that your company, in particular, has enjoyed fat times, and that maybe you should be subject to, as Chuck Schumer of New York says, a profit tax. What do you make of that?
RAYMOND: Well, we already pay a lot of profit tax.
We are a major taxpayer. Last year, we paid over $4 billion in tax. And, this year, I suspect we will probably pay more, our tax rate in the United States is in the mid-30s, almost 40 percent.
CAVUTO: But, so many look at your numbers and say, the company makes $30 billion. It has revenues of close to $300 billion. These guys can easily afford that. And, so, Chuck Schumer (search) is saying, well, now we have got to hit them a little bit more.
RAYMOND: It's not a question of whether we can afford it. I can't remember any of these people seven years ago, when the price was $10 a barrel, coming forward and saying, are you guys going to have enough money to be able to continue to invest in this business? I don't recall my phone ringing and anybody asking me that question.
CAVUTO: Those prices prompted you to merge with Mobil in the first place.
RAYMOND: Yes. And we made some decisions at that time, 1998, 1999, 2000, to fund projects that would come onstream four and five years ahead, not based on the prices of that day, because the prices of that day would not have supported those investments.
It was based on our presumption that we're in a commodity. We go through peaks and valleys, but our business is to level out the peaks and valleys, so that, over the cycle, our shareholders see an adequate return on their investment.
To the extent that people lop off the peaks, the shareholders don't see an adequate return on their investment, and we have more difficulty investing the kind of money we need to, to continue to grow the business and supply the needs that everybody in the world expects us to do.
CAVUTO: Do you think that, as the head of a company that manufactures such a vital resource to Americans, that you should be treated differently than other companies, in other words, that you have more of a social obligation to do more with the money that you make?
RAYMOND: Well, the first obligation we have is to provide supply. That's the first obligation.
The question of how much money we should make — profit is not a dirty word. And it's absolutely required in our industry to have an adequate level of profit to be able to continue to invest. This year, we're going to invest over $17 billion.
RAYMOND: All over the world — all over the world.
CAVUTO: How about refineries here in the U.S.?
RAYMOND: We have invested in the last five years in this country $3.5 billion in refining. And we will continue to invest in refining.
CAVUTO: Did the president's new legislation that became law to speed up the development of refineries and capacity here in the U.S. — are you taking advantage of that?
RAYMOND: It won't have a major impact.
The only impact it would have on us would be if there were some ability to streamline some of the regulatory processes that go along with it.
CAVUTO: So, the problem is, when you build a refinery, it just takes a long time to see fruition of that?
RAYMOND: Well, if you made a decision today that you wanted to build one, and then you would have to design it and have an environmental impact statement. So, you would have to do the full design to get that. That would probably cost you $200 million to $300 million just to get in the position of trying to get a permit.
CAVUTO: But wouldn't it be easier now? Isn't the situation, Mr. Raymond, so dire for energy that anyone in the Sierra Club (search) would approve you building a refinery?
RAYMOND: Oh, I don't think that's the case at all.
RAYMOND: I mean, I have read a lot of articles where they say, as a matter of fact, the oil companies are trying to use this as a way to skirt all the environmental laws. That's not the case at all.
But my point is, if you wanted a grassroots refinery, it's several years out into the future. So, if there is a problem — and we can debate whether there's even a problem — but if there is one, that's not an immediate solution. As a matter of fact, the comment I would make about our business that people don't understand is, one, the size of it, the immensity of the business, and, secondly, the time frame that we operate on.