Tomorrow, ExxonMobil (XOM 0.79%), the biggest member of big oil, will become the first of the group to tell us about its first 2013 quarter. While I've seen some hand-wringing about a likely less than elegant quarter at the company, and while its total production might have difficulty keeping pace with that of 2012, I nevertheless believe there are a number of positives in Exxon's repertoire that are ripe for elaboration.
The keys to the quarter
The analysts' expectations for the quarter hardly belie tough times. Indeed, their $2.05 per-share consensus prognostication represents an increase – albeit a modest one – from the $2.00 per share the company earned last year. Also of importance, you'll recall that ExxonMobil is the largest producer of natural gas in the U.S., having passed Chesapeake Energy (CHKA.Q) in 2010 with its still controversial purchase of XTO Energy. As such, the improvement in natural gas prices – from about $3.30 per Btu as March rolled in, to nearly $4.25 currently – is hardly insignificant.
Production volumes and refinery spreads are always of consequence, at least in the short term, whenever integrated companies report. Exxon told analysts last month that its natural gas production will likely slide by about 5% this year, while liquids output will probably increase by some 2%. On a barrels of oil equivalent basis, the total is apt to dip by about 1% from 2012.
Looking down the road
Longer term – and more importantly – as CEO Rex Tillerson told the analysts in March, the company expects to add a million barrels of oil equivalent to its production during the next five years from 28 major projects that are expected to come on stream during that period. Fully 24 of those will be liquids or liquids-linked. Given these new contributors, Tillerson expects the company's total production to expand by an average of about 4% per year between 2013 and 2017.
In the middle of the quarter, ExxonMobil announced that it had replaced 115% of its total production in 2012, with crude oil and other liquids additions topping output by 174%. Last year thus became the 19th full year that ExxonMobil had added back at least 100% of its production.
However, not all of the company's news is likely to deal with its upstream operations. Downstream, Exxon is in the process of adding new facilities in Singapore, China, and Finland, all with an eye to expanding markets in China and Russia. And in Saudi Arabia, while its somewhat smaller sibling Chevron (CVX 0.57%) remains the only major western company with upstream involvement, Exxon is nonetheless constructing what it terms a "world-scale synthetic rubber and special elastomers plant," which ultimately will serve markets in the Middle East and Asia.
ExxonMobil's Russian revolution
Also likely to be raised for discussion, at least on Exxon's post-release conference call, is the company's continuously expanding relationship with Russia's oil behemoth, Rosneft. You'll recall that last month, the Russian company completed the $55 billion takeover of TNK-BP, a joint venture between BP (BP 0.81%) and a group of the country's oligarchs, and the third-largest oil company in Russia. As a result of that sale, BP now holds 20% of the increasingly active Russian giant.
But Rosneft is also continuing to expand its relationship with Exxon, a combination that clearly bears watching. Two years ago, the pair entered into an agreement to cooperate in the exploration of the Kara Sea in the Russian Arctic and the Black Sea. In addition, Rosneft simultaneously gained an entrée into several ExxonMobil projects in the U.S. onshore, the Gulf of Mexico, and Canada.
Just over 60 days ago, however, the companies enhanced their 2011 Strategic Cooperation Agreement with a pact to add about 600,000 square kilometers – 150 million acres – in the Chukchi, Laptev, and Kara seas. Further, Rosneft is being provided an option to buy a 25% interest in Exxon's Point Thompson, Alaska, natural gas and condensate project. And by June, the companies will determine whether to proceed together with a proposed $15 billion liquefied natural gas plant on Russia's Pacific coast.
More recently, rumors have surfaced that Exxon and Rosneft may further expand their burgeoning relationship to Iraq. The Texas-based company is currently involved in a partnership there with Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.B), the objective of which is to expand production from the big West Qurna-1 field from about 250,000 barrels per day to more than 2.8 million barrels per day over a seven-year span.
The Foolish bottom line
ExxonMobil clearly will describe other activities and objectives on Thursday. The point is that the company is involved in a host of meaningful projects and programs that clearly render attention from Foolish energy investors more than slightly advisable.