This, of course, wasn't the company's biggest quarter ever. That occurred in the final period of 2007, when it managed to generate $11.7 billion in profits. This quarter, with oil prices propelling upstream results (production), but slowing those downstream (refining), earnings were $10.9 billion. That was up from $9.28 billion in the March 2007 period. On a per-share basis, the most recent quarter yielded $2.03, versus $1.62 year over year. But the increase wasn't sufficient in some quarters: The dart throwers had apparently been looking for a dime more per share.
Exploration and production earnings were up 45% year over year, while the contribution from refining and marketing fell by 39%. Perhaps even more importantly, liquids production fell -- in part because of Hugo Chavez's expropriation of the company's assets in Venezuela -- by nearly 6%.
ExxonMobil, like other major oil companies, is clearly doing everything it can to stem that steady slide in its liquids output. For instance, in just the past quarter, its capital spending came in at $5.5 billion, a 30% year-over-year increase. But it seems that as fast as it can uncover new deposits, it's tested by Chavez's shenanigans, obstreperous behavior from Russia's government, or -- more recently -- a strike in Nigeria that had shut down its production in that country. As you'd anticipate, all of the producers that have reported thus far, including ConocoPhillips
From an investment perspective, however, I'd urge my Foolish friends to remain on the sidelines regarding the producers for a while. Crude prices have been on a year-long march upward, and since the heights that they reached -- nearly $120 a barrel within the past week -- it's likely that we're seeing the first vestiges of a fundamental correction. Until that pullback has run its course, I'd generally counsel oil abstinence.
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