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Exxon's new CEO: We need to be nimble in this OPEC-driven oil market

Darren Woods, the new chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil, told CNBC the oil giant is not making plans based on current crude price rises.

"Our view on oil prices is there's still a lot of uncertainty in the marketplace, so while we have seen the prices go up in the short term, we're not building our investment campaign based on the assumption that those prices are going to be there forever," the 52-year-old Woods said in an interview that aired on "Squawk Box" on Thursday.

OPEC compliance with an international output cut agreement reached late last year has recently helped support the oil market.

Over the past year, U.S. prices, as measured by West Texas Intermediate crude, have surged more than 50 percent to around $53 per barrel.

"OPEC has very low production costs and so they have a lever they can pull in the choices they can make there. So what you're seeing in the U.S. is just a response to whatever that market price is," Woods said.

The ways the company intends to be nimble include a recent acquisition in the Permian Basin, which is located in Texas and New Mexico.

"That gives us some flexibility to move as the market moves and to raise our investment levels up to match what we see as opportunities in the marketplace, and so a large part of our growth in this capex is taking advantage of a short cycle we have in the Permian," he said in the interview Wednesday at the New York Stock Exchange.

Exxon repeated its January spending outlook, planning for capital expenditures of $22 billion this year, a 16 percent increase from 2016. Woods said spending should increase to about $25 billion by the end of the decade.

Tapped in December to take over for Rex Tillerson, who became President Donald Trump's secretary of State, Woods officially took the helm on the first of the year. The move was an acceleration of a plan already in place for Woods to succeed the 64-year-old Tillerson, who was facing Exxon's mandatory retirement age of 65.

Woods was at the NYSE for Exxon's analyst meeting. "It's an exciting day for me because it's my first chance to talk to the investment community, talk a little bit about our plans, talk about what we see as being the advantages that we have as a company and the opportunities we have in front of us," he said.

Exxon, one of the 30 stocks that comprise the Dow Jones industrial average, gained 2 percent on Wednesday, helping the Dow soar 303 points to close above the 21,000 for the first time ever after Trump's Tuesday night speech was well received on Wall Street. But year to date, Exxon stock has lagged with an 8 percent decline versus a nearly 7 percent advance for the Dow.

Woods said he has been focused on making sure Exxon has "a strong balance sheet that will allow us to take advantage of opportunities as they materialize in the marketplace, whether that's through organic investments or acquisitions."

He highlighted a "world class" oil discovery in Guyana, next to Venezuela in South America. "We're looking at a phased investment where we can bring in an initial early production within five years of that discovery, which is almost unheard of in this industry, and then as we continue to explore that block, bring on more production," Woods said.

— Reuters contributed to this report.

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