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Higher oil prices boost Exxon 4Q profit 2 percent

Exxon Mobil Corp.'s fourth-quarter profit rose 2 percent as higher oil prices made up for a drop in production.

Benchmark crude prices rose 10.3 percent in the final three months of 2011.

That helped Exxon post net income of $9.4 billion, or $1.97 per share, in the fourth quarter, matching Wall Street expectations. It made $9.25 billion, or $1.85 per share, a year earlier.

Revenue rose 15.6 percent to $121.6 billion in the latest quarter.

The world's largest publicly traded oil company has seen production decline even after spending a record $36.8 billion last year in search of new sources of crude and natural gas.

Exploration projects can take years to yield new production. And some of Exxon's biggest investments recently have been in U.S. natural gas fields, which so far haven't paid off because gas prices have dropped to their lowest level in a decade. Oil and gas production fell 8.8 percent in the fourth quarter compared with the same period last year.

For the full year, Exxon's net income rose 34.8 percent while revenue rose 26.9 percent.

Last week, Chevron Corp. said profits slipped 3.2 percent. ConocoPhillips reported a 66-percent increase in quarterly earnings, though much of that came from the sale of a pipeline and other assets. Royal Dutch Shell expects to report its financial results later this week.

Exxon shares fell by 99 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $84.50 in premarket trading.

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