Exxon Mobil quarterly profits beat Wall Street's expectations

Key Points
  • Exxon Mobil beat Wall Street's expectations for quarterly profit and revenue, but reported another drop in total oil and gas production.
  • Higher oil prices and growing crude oil output from the U.S. Permian Basin bolstered Exxon's bottom line.
  • Profits from Exxon's refining business improved, but downtime at international refineries continued to drag on earnings.
An Exxon Mobil gas station in Chicago.
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Exxon Mobil reported quarterly profit and revenue that beat Wall Street's expectations, even as the oil major saw another drop in total oil and gas production.

The latest report reversed a series of earnings disappointments for Exxon. Prior to this quarter, profits fell short of Wall Street's expectations in four of the last five quarters. Shares of the Irving, Texas-based company are down about 2 percent this year.

Exxon's stock price initially popped 3 percent after the company released earnings, but shares later turned negative before bouncing to end Friday's trading session up 1.6 percent.

Quarterly profits for the world's largest publicly traded oil and gas company surged 57 percent to $6.24 billion. The earnings came in at $1.46 per share, compared with $1.23 forecast by analysts in a Refinitiv survey.

Revenue also beat expectations, coming in at $76.61 billion, versus the Street's estimate for $73.55 billion.

Investors should focus on production in Exxon earnings, says analyst
Investors should focus on production in Exxon earnings, says analyst

Exxon's global crude oil production roughly matched its output in the year ago period. However, the company's natural gas output slipped 6.1 percent from a year ago to 9 billion cubic feet per day.

Despite churning out fewer hydrocarbons, earnings in the upstream exploration and production segment more than doubled to $4.23 billion from a year ago. Growing output from U.S. oil fields, higher crude prices and one-time tax impacts offset the slump in natural gas output.

Exxon's liquids production from the Permian basin, America's top oil-producing region, increased by 57 percent over the last year. The company said in July it is scaling back natural gas output in the Permian and concentrating on pumping higher-value crude oil.

"We're pleased with the increase in production from the second quarter of 2018 recognizing it reflects contributions from just one of our key growth areas, the Permian," Chairman and CEO Darren W. Woods said in a statement. "We expect to continue to increase volumes over time as we ramp up activity in the Permian and new projects start up."

Pavel Molchanov, energy research analyst at Raymond James, said the better-than-expected report amounted to a "low-quality beat."

"Part of their earnings upside was simply from lower-than-expected income tax," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Why are defense stocks selling off? Should you buy Exxon? The desk answers your questions
Why are defense stocks selling off? Should you buy Exxon? The desk answers your questions

"The metric that I would encourage everyone to focus on is production. This was the ninth quarter out of the past 10 with production down year over year. Not a very good track record."

Profits in Exxon's refining and marketing operations improved after rough second quarter. Earnings of $1.64 billion more than doubled last quarter's profits and slightly improved upon year-ago levels.

The company also reported heavier-than-expected maintenance at oil refineries in several countries and operational issues that weighed on profits last quarter. Executives warned investors to expect more work on those refineries in the coming quarters as Exxon retools the facilities to process low-sulfur fuels that will help the shipping industry meet stricter maritime emissions rules.

The company continued to see high downtime in its international refining segment in the third quarter, contributing to a 40 percent drop on overseas earnings for the business.

Cash flow from operations, a key measure of financial health for oil companies, came in at $11.1 billion, the best reading for the metric in four years.