Exxon Mobil Profits Surge on Higher Gas Prices

Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), the world's largest publicly traded oil company, reported record third quarter profits and may be headed for all-time marks for annual revenue and earnings, thanks to higher prices for oil and natural gas.

The company said it earned $5.68 billion, or 88 cents per share, in the third quarter, compared with $3.65 billion, or 55 cents per share, a year earlier.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had forecast 87 cents per share.

Revenue jumped to $76.38 billion from $58.84 billion.

Profits from exploration and production jumped nearly one-third, to $3.93 billion, and earnings from refining and selling petroleum products rose by more than one-third, up $490 million to $1.40 billion.

Earnings from chemicals were a record $1 billion, nearly four times higher than a year earlier.

Exxon Mobil said production increased 1 percent from a year ago. The global oil giant cut back its spending on capital and exploration projects, however, to $3.63 billion from $3.84 billion a year earlier.

An Exxon Mobil spokesman, Tom Cirigliano, said the company still planned to spend $15 billion to $16 billion on exploration for all of 2004, about even with the $15.53 billion it spent last year.

"We're still spending at a high level," he said.

Fadel Gheit, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. (search) , said he believed Exxon Mobil was deliberately and wisely holding back on spending because high oil prices have also raised the cost of drilling.

Gheit said Exxon Mobil was benefiting from the high price of oil — lately above $50 a barrel — but that a retreat to the range of $30 to $35 a barrel wouldn't be a disaster either. Crude oil futures slid below $52 a barrel Thursday as supply concerns ahead of the Northern Hemisphere winter eased after an unexpectedly high rise in U.S. inventories.

"Exxon Mobil would not make this kind of profit if oil prices come down, but their earnings would not would come down as much as the competition's," he said.

Gheit added that the record profit of the chemicals business showed the breadth of Exxon Mobil's strength.

For the first nine months of the year, Exxon Mobil's earnings were a record $16.91 billion, or $2.59 per share, compared to $14.86 billion, or $2.22 per share, in the same period last year. Revenue rose to $214.67 billion from $180.79 billion.

At that pace, Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil appeared likely to surpass its all-time high for revenue — $246.74 billion — set last year.

The company was also ahead of pace to break its record profit of $21.51 billion, also set last year.

Shares of Exxon Mobil were down 32 cents, at $48.63, on the New York Stock Exchange (search).