I suppose you could say I'm surprised, perhaps even shocked. The reason? I have just read a message on a non-Motley Fool message board that looked askance at the latest quarterly earnings of Petrobras (NYSE:PBR), the Brazilian national oil company.

To be sure, I have other concerns about goings-on in Brazil. But with oil and gas prices having plunged from the comparable quarter a year ago, even a company located in the heart of petroleum interests is going to suffer from lower realizations. So unless the company had been able to drive Santos basin production through the roof -- which isn't possible, since the area is still very much in the early exploratory stages -- it was going to be affected by the plunge in crude prices.

But I'm here to contend that the effects were relatively minimal. For the quarter, the company generated net earnings of $4.15 billion), a 20% drop from last year's but a 33% improvement sequentially. For the sake of comparison, Marathon (NYSE:MRO) led the bigger oil companies with "only" a 47% earnings decline, ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) brought up the rear by shedding 76%, and even Big Daddy ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) was down 66%. In all cases, the crude price slide was the primary culprit.

In addition to increasing its production of oil and liquids by 6% year over year, Petrobras managed to chalk up some other operating successes. For instance, there was the May start-up of the Tupi Extended Well Test (temporarily suspended in July due to equipment problems), which will tell more about reservoir behavior, fluid movement, etc. And there was the Corcovado-1 pre-salt discovery, along with the declaration of the Piracuca field as commercially viable.

Unfortunately a halt has been brought to new pre-salt exploration, while the Brazilian bureaucrats revamp the rules and regulations covering the area. The country's objectives are to increase Petrobras' role in pre-salt efforts and to increase the government's take from offshore petroleum production. But rest assured, the drill bits of Transocean (NYSE:RIG) and Diamond Offshore (NYSE:DO) are still turning during the "new exploration" hiatus.

Some think Petrobras may temporarily suffer because of a lackluster quarter or the exploration stoppage. Nevertheless, in the long term, Petrobras is a company in the driver's seat, if ever there was one. 

Petrobras has been rated as a full five-star company by Motley Fool CAPS players. Why not check it out and add your assessment?

Fool contributor David Lee Smith hasn't set foot on Brazil, can't dance the bossanova, and doesn't own shares in any of the companies named above. Nevertheless, he welcomes your comments. Petroleo Brasileiro is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.