ExxonMobil Earnings Slip on Natural Gas Prices

Feel badly for ExxonMobil.

The world's largest publicly traded oil company Thursday reported that second-quarter profit fell 1 percent from a year ago — and net income only a paultry $10.26 billion, still good enough for the fourth largest quarterly profit ever for a publicly traded U.S. company.

The latest profit compared with earnings of $10.36 billion in the second quarter of 2006.

The petroleum giant blamed higher natural gas prices for the decline.

On a per-share basis, Irving, Texas-based ExxonMobil reported earnings of $1.83 a share in the most-recent quarter, up from $1.72 from a year ago, reflecting fewer shares on the market because of an ongoing stock buyback program.

Revenue in the quarter dipped slightly to $98.35 billion from $99.03 billion a year ago.

The per-share result fell short of the forecast of $1.96 a share by analysts polled by Thomson Financial, but the revenue figured topped the prediction of $97.6 billion. The earnings estimates typically exclude onetime items.

The average forecast of Wall Street analysts was $1.96 a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

"I think the street was a little optimistic on the downstream, which was very strong," said Gene Pisasale, who helps manage about $25 billion at Mercantile Capital Advisors, a unit of PNC Wealth Management.

He noted the company came in well-ahead of estimates last quarter, which may have prodded analysts to ratchet up their forecasts.

"They got hurt by the non-U.S. natural gas realizations," he said.

The company's European natural gas prices fell nearly 14 percent to $6.67 per thousand cubic feet. Its price for other natural gas sales outside the U.S. fell 10 percent to $6 per thousand cubic feet.

Exxon's U.S. natural gas prices rose 8 percent to $6.94 per thousand cubic feet.

This is the second straight quarter Exxon has complained of soft natural gas demand in Europe. In the first quarter, the company attributed the weakness to warmer-than-normal winter weather.

Earnings from its exploration and production segment fell over 16 percent to $5.95 billion. Exxon's profit from its downstream unit rose 36 percent to $3.39 billion.

Integrated oil companies that both produce and refine oil and gas were expected to have yet another in a series of stellar quarters as soaring refining margins picked up the slack for a year over year drop in oil prices.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.