By Arathy S Nair and Sabrina Valle
(Reuters) -Exxon Mobil on Friday posted its biggest quarterly profit in more than a year that also sailed past analysts’ estimates, boosted by higher oil prices and record earnings at its chemicals business.
The upbeat results following a contested board fight over the company’s direction quelled some investor concerns and highlighted how oil producers are taking advantage of a recovery in oil prices to cut debt and boost shareholder payouts rather than spend more to raise production.
“Positive momentum continued during the second quarter across all of our businesses as the global economic recovery increased demand for our products,” Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods said in a statement.
Exxon said its 2021 capital spending is expected to be at the lower end of the previously forecast range of $16 billion to $19 billion.
Earlier in the day, rival Chevron cut its 2021 budget, although both the top U.S. producers expect higher spending in the second half of the year as they resume investments on key projects, including the prolific Permian basin.
“ExxonMobil continued the parade of major oils companies with rapidly improving results, recovering from the depths of the COVID crisis during the second quarter last year,” Third Bridge Group’s Peter McNally said.
Exxon again used higher cash flow to pare a massive debt built up to preserve its shareholder dividend amid historic losses. The company cut debt by $2.7 billion, bringing total reductions to about $7 billion since the end of 2020.
The company also reiterated its pledge to cut costs further, saying it was on pace to achieve total cost savings of $6 billion through 2023 relative to 2019. In the first half of 2021 Exxon cut over $1 billion in costs, it said, on top of reductions of $3 billion in 2020.
Exxon earned $1.10 per share in the second quarter, beating analysts’ average estimate of 99 cents per share, according to Refinitiv IBES data. The company foreshadowed the results in late June, prompting several analysts to reduce their earning projections.
The company’s shares, which have risen 43% this year after plunging during the height of the pandemic, were little changed in premarket trading.
Shareholders had cast out three Exxon directors in May for a hedge fund’s nominees promising to boost returns and better prepare the company for a low-carbon world.
Earnings from its chemicals and plastics business rose nearly five-fold from a year ago to a record $2.32 billion as margins expanded on strong demand for plastic packaging, tight industry supply and shipping constraints.
Higher oil prices pushed earnings in the company’s exploration and production business to a more than one-year high of $3.19 billion. Output fell 2% to 3.6 million oil-equivalent barrels per day during the quarter.
The company said it expects higher oil and gas volumes in the current quarter due to reduced planned maintenance.
However, refining and marketing business has still not recovered from the pandemic, posting a loss of $227 million, hurt by maintenance costs, weak international air travel and product oversupply.
Exxon’s U.S. refining business has lost money for six quarters in a row. Outside the United States, refining operations have run in the red in five of the last six quarter.
Net income for the second quarter came in at $4.69 billion, compared with a loss of $1.08 billion a year ago, which included a gain related to reversing an inventory writedown. Absent the inventory change, the loss would have been $3 billion.
(Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)