Why ExxonMobil Will Move the Dow Tomorrow

The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) has been up and down on Wednesday, rising 15 points as of 12:30 p.m. EDT as investors weighed the fallout of a much weaker GDP figure than was expected and wondered whether the Federal Reserve might slow its tapering of quantitative easing at its policy meeting today. While most Dow components have already reported earnings, we'll get news from the energy sector tomorrow when ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) issues its quarterly report. The report should shed some light on the state of the energy industry, within the Dow and throughout the U.S., and how it compares with the conditions faced by BP (NYSE: BP  ) and other competitors.

ExxonMobil will report its results before the market opens tomorrow, with its earnings release expected at about 8 a.m. EDT based on past release times from previous quarters. The company has scheduled a conference call for 11 a.m. EDT, and comments there might well move the Dow Jones Industrials on a moment-to-moment basis.

Investors expect ExxonMobil to continue its trend of sluggish revenue and weak profit, with a double-digit decline in earnings per share possible compared to the year-ago quarter. Last quarter, the oil giant's downstream operations, which include refining and chemical manufacturing, weighed especially hard on Exxon's overall earnings. Although some of the factors that hurt the refining industry in the fourth quarter of 2013 have become more favorable, ExxonMobil can't necessarily count on a rebound in the downstream segment to pull up its overall results.

More critically, investors who follow the Dow Jones Industrials will want to see how successful ExxonMobil is at keeping its production levels moving higher. Finding economically viable sources of replacement reserves has been a long-term challenge for ExxonMobil, BP, and just about every major producer in the industry, especially as new finds increasingly involve major production challenges such as tough ultra-deepwater conditions or the need for innovative unconventional drilling methods.

Source: ExxonMobil.

One element of the search is finding reserves in locations that don't have too much political risk. ExxonMobil will have to address the potential for problems in Russia, especially as tensions rise over the conflict in Ukraine. Exxon has a close relationship with Russian oil giant Rosneft and counts numerous projects, especially those involving the untapped assets off the northern coast of Russia in the Arctic Ocean, as being critical to its overall growth. Any sanctions or other penalties that hurt Exxon's ability to do business in Russia could have substantial long-term effects. It's also a huge issue for BP, which has a nearly 20% stake in Rosneft and also has to be concerned about retaliatory measures that Russian President Vladimir Putin might impose on the industry.

For Dow investors, ExxonMobil's above-average share price means the stock carries significant weight by itself. When you consider the impact that the energy industry has had on oil and gas producers, as well as the companies that provide them with essential materials and services, ExxonMobil's read on the sector could have wide-ranging effects throughout the Dow Jones Industrials.

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