Normally, I spend most of my energy-investment energies on smaller companies -- if you want to call Apache's (NYSE:APA) $23 billion or Transocean's (NYSE:RIG) $25 billion in market cap "small." But refusing to check in with the big papa of Big Oil, ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), is like ignoring a $404 billion elephant in the middle of the room.

So how's Exxon doing these days? Not bad, all in all. Revenue rose 12% this quarter and adjusted earnings jumped 32%, as the company continues to squeeze out additional profitability.

Upstream results were the real star of the show. Production was up 6% (up 9% if you adjust for divestments and entitlements), and though natural gas realizations were down slightly in the U.S., energy prices in general are still a fair bit higher now than they were a year ago. That, in turn, led to 45% earnings growth.

On the downstream side, earnings were up a more modest 12%, as better refining margins were offset by lower throughput (throughput and product sales were each down about 6%) and lower marketing margins. And while chemicals just don't matter much in Exxon's big picture, earnings there were up 3% to $840 million.

In general, I'm not a huge fan of most major oil companies. Companies like Exxon, Total (NYSE:TOT), and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS) arguably have some of the best long-term portfolios among the biggies, but there are still plenty of challenges ahead. Oil and gas are simply getting harder to get -- you have to drill further offshore, negotiate with shakier governments, and/or steam-clean sand if you want to get more oil these days.

Making matters worse, the price of oil isn't all about supply and demand for oil itself. Oil (like gold to some extent) is a proxy vote on people's feelings about global stability and cooperation. Planning and budgeting get a bit more interesting when prices include a big fear/risk premium, even in the face of decent production and storage numbers.

If you really have to own a big domestic oil company, I guess ExxonMobil is an OK choice. It's a little undervalued, pays out ample cash to its shareholders, and has a pretty good outlook for maintaining/increasing production. Still, I think there are better opportunities a little further down the size scale in the energy sector.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).