- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2006

DALLAS (AP) — Exxon Mobil Corp., the world’s largest oil company, yesterday reported the fifth highest quarterly profit for any public company in U.S. history, posting gains from higher oil prices that were likely to stoke the furor over big oil company earnings.

Despite the 7 percent gain in earnings to more than $8 billion in the first quarter, Exxon Mobil said the earnings were lower than in the company’s record fourth quarter because all three of its business — exploration and production, refining, and chemicals — didn’t perform as well.

The earnings report comes amid consumer outcry in the United States about soaring gasoline prices. The average retail price of gasoline here is $2.91 a gallon, or 68 cents higher than a year ago.

It also comes as Washington lawmakers are looking to appease consumers with various proposals to make big oil companies pay more taxes or provide consumers with some other relief.

In January, Exxon posted the highest quarterly profits of any public company in U.S. history: $10.71 billion for the fourth quarter of 2005 and $36.13 billion for the full year.

In the first quarter, net income rose to $8.4 billion ($1.37 per share) from $7.86 billion ($1.22) a year ago. Excluding a gain on the sale of an interest in China’s Sinopec, the company’s year-ago profit was $7.4 billion ($1.15).

But analysts polled by Thomson Financial were looking for a higher profit of $1.47 per share for the latest quarter, and shares fell 68 cents to $62.42 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The latest profit figure still places Exxon fifth historically among quarterly earnings, said Howard Silverblatt, a senior index analyst for Standard & Poor’s. Exxon also holds the first, second and fourth spots; Royal Dutch Shell has the third spot.

Exxon said its average sale price for crude oil in the United States during the quarter was $55.99 a barrel, compared with $42.70 a year ago. It sold natural gas in the United States on average for $8.31, compared with $6.18 a year ago.

Earnings from exploration and production of oil and gas rose to $6.4 billion from $5 billion a year ago. Refining profits fell from $1.4 billion to $1.2 billion, and profits from the company’s chemical business fell to $949 million from $1.4 billion

Revenue grew to $88.98 billion from $82.05 billion a year earlier. Higher crude-oil and natural-gas prices and improved marketing margins were partly offset by lower chemical margins.

Placed in perspective, Exxon’s revenue for the three-month period was still greater than the annual gross domestic product of some major oil-producing nations, including the United Arab Emirates ($74.67 billion) and Kuwait ($55.31 billion).

Exxon said it invested $4.8 billion in capital and exploration projects, a 41 percent increase from 2005.

“In the first quarter of 2006, the results of our continuing long-term investment program contributed to a 5 percent increase in production,” Chairman Rex W. Tillerson said.

Exxon also said it returned $7 billion to shareholders through dividends of $2 billion and buying back $5 billion worth of shares.

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