Much has been written of ExxonMobil's (NYSE: XOM) record profits in recent years. But record or no, the company actually underperformed Wall Street expectations in two quarters out of four last year. With oil now touching $120 a barrel, is investing in Exxon finally a sure thing?

We'll have time a-plenty to dissect Exxon's specific numbers after tomorrow's release. But before we begin obsessing over Exxon's short-term performance, let's pause to review what investors think about it as a long-term investment. Our tool in this endeavor: Motley Fool CAPS, where we poll more than 100,000 investors for their views on well over 5,000 companies, ExxonMobil included. Here's what Fools have to say about the company and its long-term prospects.

Up or down?
More than 4,600 investors have submitted ratings on ExxonMobil, enough to make it the 18th most-rated stock in all of CAPS-land. (Find out who's No. 1.)

Fully 92% of Fools polled agree that ExxonMobil is a winner, and the better the investor, the more likely he or she is bullish on Exxon. And with 95% of our CAPS All-Stars liking the company, Exxon's CAPS rating gets a boost to four stars out of a possible five -- yet it's still not the most popular member of Big Oil:

Integrated Oil & Gas Group

CAPS Rating

ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP)


Chevron (NYSE: CVX)


Total (NYSE: TOT)






Sunoco (NYSE: SUN)


PetroChina (NYSE: PTR)


Wall Street vs. Main Street
And if you think run-of-the-mill investors are upbeat on Exxon, Wall Street's positively giddy. Eleven of 19 analysts covering the stock rate it a "buy," and the rest issue a "hold" rating. (Exxon's popularity isn't surprising when you consider that the stock has outperformed the S&P 500 by 23 points over the past year.)

Bull pitch
The top-rated CAPS pitch for Exxon eschews sentiments and wishful thinking about "energy independence" in favor of cold, hard logic. In February, RobertVBolton wrote:

With no real [alternative] that is cost effective, oil is here to stay for a while. Also with the increased demand for the BRIC countries [Brazil, Russia, India, and China] Exxon has the potential for great returns of the next few years. Top it off with the dividend the stock pays, this is great for a long term position.

Bear pitch
You've heard of a "horse of a different color," right? Well today, we find a Green bear taking up the anti-Exxon standard and leading the ursine charge. CAPS player simon78 argued (also in February):

The oil price will not remain at over $100 as the global economy slows and the situation in the Middle East becomes less bad. Also, we may see some substitution from oil as [occurred] in the 1970s. All of this is bad for Exxon, which has also firmly positioned itself on the wrong side of the green debate.

I agree with both of today's top pitchers -- at least in part. Oil is here to stay for a while. (I don't have a hydrogen fueling station on my block, or solar panels on my house. Do you?) That said, the economy is slowing, and shuttered factories don't consume as much energy as do shops working at full capacity. Laid-off workers don't buy gas for nonexistent commutes, nor do foreclosed homes and their evicted tenants burn a lot of heating oil. Whether higher prices will offset lower demand, though, remains to be seen.

Who said that?
To learn the identities of the wise Fools who penned these words, examine their records, and see whether they know whereof they speak, and to explore the plethora of additional financial data we've put together on the company, head on over to Motley Fool CAPS.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's ranked No. 1,002 out of more than 100,000 players. Total is an Income Investor recommendation. The Fool has a disclosure policy.