NEW YORK (AP) – Exxon earned nearly $11 billion in the first quarter, a performance likely to land it in the center of the national debate over high gasoline prices.
The world’s largest publicly traded company on Thursday reported net income of $10.65 billion, or $2.14 per share, in the first three months of the year. That compares with $6.3 billion, or 1.33 per share a year ago. Revenue increased 26 percent to $114 billion.
The results surpassed Wall Street estimates of $2.04 per share on sales of $112.6 billion, according to FactSet.
The quarter was Exxon’s best since it earned a record $14.83 billion in 2008′s third quarter. It comes at a time when some drivers are paying $4 or more for gas and President Obama is threatening the oil industry’s multibillion-dollar tax subsidies.
Earnings grew across the company’s business segments. Income from its exploration and production business gained 49 percent to $8.7 billion while the company’s downstream business, which includes refineries, posted a huge 30-fold jump to more than $1.1 billion.
Anticipating a strong reaction to the results from drivers and politicians, Exxon said on a company blog Wednesday that it has little control over the price of oil, which has risen to near $113 per barrel. The company also noted that less than 3 cents of every dollar it earns comes from the sale of gasoline and diesel fuel.
That may not appease many motorists, however. The national average for a gallon of gas is $3.89, about $1.02 more than a year ago. It’s above $4 in 8 states and the District of Columbia. And on Thursday, the Commerce Department said economic growth slowed sharply in the first quarter, partly because of high gas prices.
On the blog, Ken Cohen, Exxon’s vice president of public and government affairs, said the company was anticipating “the inevitable headlines and sound bites about high gasoline prices and what to do about them” after the earnings were reported.
Exxon’s huge profit followed similar results by other oil companies.
Europe’s largest oil company, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, reported $8.78 billion in first-quarter profits, up 60 percent from a year ago. BP PLC’s quarterly earnings rose 16 percent to $7.2 billion. ConocoPhillips said net income grew 43 percent to $3 billion and Occidental Petroleum Corp. said earnings climbed 46 percent to $1.55 billion.
Exxon Mobil Corp. increased earnings even though it produced less oil and natural gas liquids. Benchmark crude prices rose 20 percent from a year ago.
The company has increasingly focused on producing natural gas. Exxon expects natural gas to displace coal as the second most important fuel source within the next decade, and last year it acquired XTO Energy to become the largest U.S. natural gas producer.
Natural gas production increased 24 percent in the quarter for Exxon, but prices declined as other companies followed Exxon’s lead and rushed to develop underground shale gas deposits in North America. Natural gas prices fell nearly 16 percent from a year ago.
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