Based on this week's parade of earnings from the largest U.S. oil producers, energy companies are swimming upstream.
With one notable exception, profit from oil and gas exploration and production—otherwise known as "upstream" earnings—proved to be a saving grace for the industry in the most recent quarter, at a time when growth prospects for multinational oil companies have largely stagnated.
ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips both beat Wall Street estimates, helped in large measure by a surge in upstream earnings. Chevron, the second largest U.S. oil producer, didn't fare as well, with upstream profit that dropped 19 percent from 2013—though that decline appears to have resulted from a shortfall overseas, not in the U.S.
Exxon got a particularly large boost from the segment, reporting $7.8 billion in earnings helped in part by the winter natural gas price surge and a rally in crude. That has helped its stock, which has risen to a new 52-week high amid a boom in energy stocks.