Big oil is spending like never before, but ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) plans to spend $1.8 billion less in 2013 than it did last year. After witnessing production falter by 6% last year, one would have guessed that spending might creep up, but that simply is not the case. Thankfully for investors, this decrease in production didn't keep Exxon from posting its best year, in terms of net income, since 2008. 

Is this performance likely to continue?
After coming to an understanding of what Exxon hopes to accomplish over the next several years, I think investors might have to curb their earnings expectations just a bit. Considering that the bulk of this spending will be geared toward exploration activity, the fruits of Exxon's labor might appear a bit further down the road.

For the next couple of years, it appears that natural gas will be put on hold until at least 2015 while the company focuses its efforts more toward oil and natural gas liquids as those have proven to be more profitable recently. Global expansion plans include multiple deepwater reservoirs and a host of unconventional geographies. While earnings per share might grow slowly, the cash-generating capabilities of Exxon should keep the dividends and share buybacks flowing while you wait.

Joel South and Taylor Muckerman have no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.