- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2009

HOUSTON (AP) — Exxon Mobil Corp. said Thursday its first-quarter profit fell 58 percent from a year ago as the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company, like the rest of the industry, saw crude and gas prices fall precipitously.

Exxon Mobil, based in Irving, Texas, said earnings for the first three months of the year came to $4.6 billion, or 92 cents a share, down from $10.9 billion, or $2.02 a share, a year ago.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were looking for net income of 95 cents a share.

Revenue fell 45 percent to $64 billion from $116.9 billion a year ago. Analysts, on average, had forecast revenue of about $54 billion, Thomson Reuters said.

Yet even as many producers postpone or even cancel some oil and gas projects, Exxon increased capital spending in the first quarter by 5 percent from a year ago.

“In spite of the dramatic changes to the global economic environment, Exxon Mobil is maintaining its long-term focus and disciplined approach to capital investment,” Rex Tillerson, the company’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.

Exxon also spent billions buying back its own shares during the quarter.

The profit falloff was no surprise given the steep drop in oil and natural gas prices from a year ago. This time last year crude was in the triple digits, in the midst of a historic ride to almost $150 a barrel. But prices spent the rest of the year retreating and have hovered around $50 a barrel since March.

Still, any time Exxon Mobil reports such a big profit decline, it’s likely to prompt a double take. Just three months ago, it posted a $45.2 billion profit for all of 2008, breaking its own earnings record for a U.S. company.

The oil giant, which replaced Wal-Mart atop the 2009 Fortune 500 list of largest U.S. companies, has made a habit of setting quarterly and annual profit marks in the past few years amid rising commodity prices.

It’s a different story these days.

Exxon, which produces 3 percent of the world’s oil, said earnings at its exploration and output, or upstream, business fell 60 percent to $3.5 billion. The company said lower crude prices reduced earnings by about $4.4 billion, while falling natural gas prices lowered results by about $500 million.

Overall production was roughly flat from a year ago.

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