With hundreds of companies having reported quarterly results, we're now in the heart of earnings season. The key to making smart investment decisions with stocks releasing their quarterly reports is to anticipate how they'll do before they announce results, leaving you fully prepared to respond quickly to whatever inevitable surprises arise. That way, you'll be less likely to make an uninformed, knee-jerk decision.

Let's turn to ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM). The oil giant only managed to post 2012 gains of 5%, underperforming the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) as the company faced declining revenue and profits in a weak energy environment. Let's take an early look at what's been happening with ExxonMobil over the past quarter and what we're likely to see in its quarterly report on Friday.

Stats on ExxonMobil

Analyst EPS Estimate


Change From Year-Ago EPS


Revenue Estimate

$117.15 billion

Change From Year-Ago Revenue


Earnings Beats in Past 4 Quarters


Source: Yahoo Finance.

Will ExxonMobil deliver warm results?
ExxonMobil has analysts guessing, with earnings-per-share estimates having fluctuated significantly over the past three months. Overall, though, Exxon's trend has generally been consistent with the rest of the market, as slight declines have kept a lid on the stock. Shares have risen just 1% since late October despite a strong overall market.

Exxon has been dealing with the same issues that most other integrated oil companies face right now. Although downstream refining and marketing operations have been extremely profitable, upstream results have been worrisome, as declining production, lower prices, and a stronger dollar have combined to hurt Exxon's returns.

But despite weakness in the natural-gas market, Exxon still sees it as a major opportunity. Last year, Exxon started discussing a mammoth $65 billion project to build a natural-gas pipeline to bring Alaskan natural gas from the North Slope to a proposed liquefied-natural-gas terminal on the southern coast of the state. With ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) and BP (NYSE:BP) as potential partners, Exxon hopes that LNG export to Asian markets will help it realize greater profits from its investments in the Arctic.

Exxon is also looking for new plays. Earlier this month, the company said it would spend $14 billion to develop an oil field with more than 700 million barrels of recoverable oil off the coast of the Canadian Maritimes. Working with Chevron's (NYSE:CVX) Canadian subsidiary -- which will own 26.7% of the project -- and a number of other players, Exxon hopes to start production within four years.

Exxon has the financial resources to do what it takes to find new resources. In Friday's report, look for what ideas the company has to bolster its long-term prospects and be sure to fit them in with your vision of whether Exxon can be successful in the long run.

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This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.