Image source: ExxonMobil corporate website.

The longer and longer low oil prices stick around, the greater strain that it's putting on companies across the energy space. Many companies have already dipped deep into loss column over the past several quarters, and even the biggest oil and gas players have seen their financials get strained.

Despite this low-oil-price environment, ExxonMobil (XOM -0.05%) was still able to squeeze out some profits this past quarter and is still managing the downturn better than the rest. Let's take a quick look at ExxonMobil's results from the fourth quarter and why its profitability is allowing it to do something that few others are able to do today. 

By the numbers
Before you even consider looking at ExxonMobil's earnings for the quarter, there is one thing that you need to keep in mind. In what has been a little more than 18 months, the price of oil has declined 73%. That helps to bring into context that the company has seen its earnings per share decline to $0.67 per share. Even though that figure is more than 57% lower than this time last year, it was still above analyst estimates of $0.59 per share. 

As you might expect, the biggest declines in ExxonMobil's results came from its upstream side of the business. This quarter, though, refining and chemical earnings were less robust and couldn't carry as much weight to prop up earnings. Here's a quick breakdown of the company's earnings by segment.

Image source: ExxonMobil earnings release; author's chart.

These declines aren't exactly the most encouraging thing to investors, but consider this: ExxonMobil is the only integrated oil and gas company to report a positive earnings result thus far.

CompanyNet Income
ExxonMobil  $4,240
Chevron (CVX 0.08%) ($588)
BP (BP -0.67%) ($3,307)

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

The biggest thing that sets ExxonMobil apart from Chevron and BP this past quarter was that ExxonMobil's oil and gas production side of the business was able to remain profitable while both Chevron and BPs production units fell well into the red. 

The highlights

  • On a year-over-year basis, oil and gas production increased 4.8%. All of the gain came from an additional 299,000 barrels per day of liquids production that was offset by a 631 million-cubic-foot-per-day decline in natural gas production.
  • The large uptick in production in the fourth quarter helped to push 2015's total production higher 3.2%. 
  • The Banyu Urip's central production facility came online in the fourth quarter, making it the sixth major project to come online for ExxonMobil in 2015. Peak production at Banyu Urip is 130,000 barrels per day.
  • Cash flow from operations came in at a rather measly $5.1 billion. To be fair, though, the company's $3.2 billion increase in working capital took a pretty large chunk out of that number. For the first quarter in quite some time, cash from operations did not exceed its capital spending needs.
  • Capital spending of $7.4 billion was 29% less than the same time last year.
  • On top of its dividend payments, management also repurchased $500 million in stock.

Management's view of the quarter
From CEO Rex Tillerson:

"While our financial results reflect the challenging environment, we remain focused on the business fundamentals, including project execution and effective cost management. The scale and diversity of our cash flows, along with our financial strength, provide us with the confidence to invest through the cycle to create long-term shareholder value."

This is the one thing ExxonMobil has done for years that so many of its peers haven't been able to do as effectively: Invest though the cycle. When BP and Chevron reported earnings, one of the things that its management teams talked about the most was cutting capital expenditures to get in line with its cash flows by 2017. While we had a bit of a blip this past quarter, ExxonMobil has been able to generate enough cash to keep its capital spending plan in place. This could reap some large rewards down the road when oil prices recover and ExxonMobil still has a strong stable of projects to work on while the others scramble to get new production up and running.

What a Fool believes
No one is going to dance in the street after seeing ExxonMobil's results this past quarter, but after seeing Chevron and BP dip into the red, it goes to show that ExxonMobil continues to be the most resilient oil and gas company out there. With few signs that oil and gas prices are going to pick up any time soon, investors in ExxonMobil should take some comfort in the fact that the company can make money at today's extremely low prices.