The Big Oil Beat Gets Louder

Foolish energy investors -- which, to one degree or another, should include us all -- may be thinking of dancing in the streets. After all, we've received encouraging news from the likes of Halliburton (NYSE: HAL  ) , Weatherford (NYSE: WFT  ) , and Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB  ) .

Now, in performances likely to further widen your smiles -- and as if a barrier existed at reporting time between the services companies and their exploration and production employers -- the producers have begun pouring out their third-quarter results. From ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) down they're telling solid stories in ways that just might make us forget our recent summer-long focus on BP's (NYSE: BP  ) Gulf of Mexico horror show.

The biggest first
Let's look first at ExxonMobil, even though ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) beat it to the publicity punch by a day. But Exxon is bigger, and thereby is able to muscle its way to the front of the line.

For the quarter, the company earned $7.35 billion, or $1.44 per share, compared with $4.73 billion, or $0.98 per share in the same quarter a year ago. That, if you're keeping tabs, amounted to a 55% jump on the earnings line. As you'll also discover from the other integrated companies, Exxon benefited from a sweet combination of higher crude and natural gas prices, along with more positive refining margins.

And then there was its 20% increase in oil-equivalent production, which was largely the result of output from the company's assets in Qatar and its acquisition of gas producer XTO. The result of all these positives was something of a perfect storm for the company's earnings.

Bigger upstream
The upstream segment contributed $5.47 billion to earnings for the quarter. That was up $1.46 billion from the third quarter of 2009. Higher crude oil and natural gas realizations were responsible for about $1 billion of the delta, while increased gas volumes kicked in another $270 million of the difference.

Downstream earnings were $1.16 billion, an improvement of $835 million year on year. That difference was attributable to a number of factors, including industry refining margins, changes in volumes and product mix, and foreign exchange effects.

CEO Rex Tillerson noted that, "Despite continuing economic uncertainty, we had strong quarterly results and continued to advance our robust investment opportunities." Indeed, the company's capital and exploration outlays were up fully 18% for the first nine months of the year versus the same period in 2009.

Increasing the pizzazz
So mark down a great quarter for the Big Daddy of the public integrated companies. However, I'm inclined to agree with The Wall Street Journal's Liam Denning, who on Thursday headlined a piece, "Exxon Needs to Show, Tell and Sell Its Vision." His contention is that Exxon would benefit from selling itself more actively, including increasing the discussion of its reason for making the XTO purchase. I agree, and can easily imagine how this well-managed, asset rich company would benefit from just a little pizzazz.

The beat goes on
ConocoPhillips, the third-largest U.S.-based member of Big Oil, also banked a solid quarter, although perhaps not quite as strong as Exxon's. For the quarter, Conoco recorded profits of $3.06 billion, or $2.05 a share, compared with $1.47 billion, or $0.97 a share, in the third quarter of 2009.

However, its adjusted earnings were $2.2 billion in income, or $1.50 a share, on revenue that increased 20% to $49.55 billion. As such, it too topped the analysts' consensus of $1.45 a share on $45.8 billion in revenues. It almost seems that the big energy companies should join forces and hire Cher to belt out a rendition of "The Beat Goes On."

Upstream, Conoco's production slipped to 1.72 million barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) per day, from 1.79 BOE a year earlier. The decrease was due to normal field decline, especially in North America and Europe, and to asset sales. Late in the period, in the face of low gas prices, the company initiated North American production curtailments of about 180 million cubic feet equivalent per day.

Focus on liquids
From the perspective of its concentrations, ConocoPhillips is maintaining its focus on the Eagle Ford, Bakken, and North Barnett shale plays, all of which are rich in liquids. At the same time, it has completed its second well in Poland testing a potential European shale play.

Refining and marketing benefited from a 15% improvement in the global crack spreads. Nevertheless, Conoco's downstream earnings were hit by a negative $75 million from inventory effects that Conoco anticipates recovering next quarter.

Conoco is also continuing its restructuring quest, which in part has involved the sale of $6.4 billion of its shares of Russia's OAO Lukoil thus far in 2010. The company has stated a desire to sell about $10 billion of its assets, in addition to the Lukoil shares.

Indeed, as CEO Jim Mulva said during the call, "I think there's the opportunity as we go through 2011 ... to be doing more than -- somewhat more than $10 billion of asset sales. We're on track on the restructuring where we want to move [Exploration & Production] up toward more as a portion of our portfolio and Refining and Marketing from 25% with time closer to 15%."

Awaiting another favorite
So there you have it: Two more energy companies have topped expectations -- although Conoco did so more by lowering corporate expenses than by shooting the lights out in its operating sectors. I'm eager for Chevron's (NYSE: CVX  ) release tomorrow, since I continue to believe that the California company and ExxonMobil are the members of Big Oil most deserving of Foolish attention.

Chevron is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. The Fool owns shares in ExxonMobil. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On October 29, 2010, at 12:02 PM, soycapital wrote:

    Bought some CVX today. I don't like to walk to work, I'd rather drive. Thank you for big oil.

  • Report this Comment On October 29, 2010, at 1:18 PM, Veritas1010 wrote:

    Big oil is big money. And, that folk's is how the world goes 'round.

    Market forces and politics dictates the fuels of choice, sure in an ideal world solar power would represent the premier (and argueably best) energy source for the planet. But, that time is not now.

    Yes, in the future - undoubtedly - but not now, (or as Rex Tillerman has advanced) not for a good many decades either, (unless the geo-political structure of our plant experiences a major change through either war and/or massive ecological disaster.

    This said, XOM, COP, represent the best-of-the best for the erstwhile investor seeking resonable returns, growth and dividends. By all metrics both these firms have a bright immediate future and a strong history to support reasonably positive projections going forward.

    Blaming oil companies for our decisions as adults and consumers is the cry of the collectivists and social fabians. We've been down that road before...and some would advance pretty far down it today..."the fault lies not in our stars, but ourselves"...

    In the meantime, 'filler-up please!

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