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Could ExxonMobil Buy BP?

With chatter that BP or its assets may be on somebody’s shopping list, or that somebody may go fishing for Anadarko’s offshore assets, the obvious question: Which big oil company is most financially fit to do those kind of deals?

The answer, without question, based exclusively on its balance sheet: Exxon Mobil , whose balance sheet looks like a fortress:

As of a quarter ago, its net cash was $4.3 billion. That’s considerably below where it was in the same quarter in 2009 and 2008.

But keep in mind that last year the company paid out $26 billion in dividends and in stock repurchases.

Its return on capital was 19 percent.

Return on equity, 22.6 percent.

Compare that with Royal Dutch Shell :

Net debt of $28.8 billion.

Return on capital, 11.8 percent.

Return on equity, 16 percent.

ConocoPhillips :

Net debt of $36.6 billion

Return on capital, 9.1 percent.

Return on equity, 13.4 percent.

Chevron :

Net cash, $700 million

Return on capital, 15.5 percent.

Return on equity, $19.4 percent.

Herb’s Hook: Granted, debt of an acquirer is only part of the equation. But if any of these assets go into play, the gushing nature of ExxonMobil’s cashgives it a clear advantage.