- Oil firm smashes Wall Street forecasts with $19.7 billion profit
- Exxon's fossil-fuel bets eclipse rivals Shell, TotalEnergies
- Company projects flat oil output this year on Russia losses
HOUSTON, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp on Friday smashed expectations as soaring energy prices fuelled a record-breaking quarterly profit, nearly matching that of tech giant Apple.
Its $19.66 billion third-quarter net profit far exceeded recently raised Wall Street forecasts as sky-rocketing natural gas and high oil prices put its earnings within reach of Apple's $20.7 billion net for the same period.
As recently as 2013, Exxon ranked as the largest publicly traded U.S. company by market value - a position now held by Apple.
Oil company profits have soared this year as rising demand and an under-supplied energy market collided with Western sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. U.S. exports of gas and oil to Europe have jumped and promise to set all-time profit records for the industry.
The top U.S. oil producer reported a per share profit of $4.68, exceeding Wall Street's $3.89 consensus view, on a huge jump in natural gas earnings, continued high oil prices and strong fuel sales.
Exxon, which led record gains by the five producers known as oil majors in the prior quarter, pulled far ahead of peers Shell and TotalEnergies with third-quarter profits almost twice as big. Its gains were aided by its highly criticized decision to double down on fossil fuels as European competitors shifted to renewables.
"Our investments over the past five years, including through the lows of the pandemic, are really driving our results today," Chief Financial Officer Kathryn Mikells told Reuters.
Exxon banked $43 billion in the first nine months of this year, 19% more than in the same period of 2008, when oil prices traded at a record level of $140 per barrel.
The company spent $5.73 billion on new oil and gas projects last quarter, up 24% from a year ago, and remains on track to hit an investment target of $21 billion to $24 billion this year, she said.
Rising profits have renewed calls by U.S. President Joe Biden for companies to invest the windfall profits from this year's energy price runup in production rather than buy back their own shares.
Exxon will maintain its $30 billion share buyback program through 2023 while increasing dividends, Mikells said. On Friday, it declared a fourth-quarter per share dividend of 91 cents, up 3 cents, and will pay $15 billion to shareholders this year.
Investors this week pushed up Exxon shares to a record intraday high of $109.58 as oil prices traded above $96 per barrel.
In the third quarter, U.S. natural gas prices averaged $7.95 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), up 10% from the second quarter. Brent prices eased to $98 per barrel in the same period, from an average of $109 between April and June.
Exxon said its oil and gas production from the Permian Basin is near 560,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boed), a record. That is up 11% or 50,000 barrels per day from a year ago.
Results were helped by an almost 100,000 boed increase over the previous quarter in Guyana, where Exxon leads a consortium responsible for all output in the South American nation.
But output was hit by its withdrawal from Russia, where it abandoned more than $4 billion in assets and a 220,000 boed project following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Exxon said its assets were expropriated.
As a result, the company reduced its production forecast for the year by about 100,000 barrels per day.
"We are going to end up at about 3.7 million barrels a day for the full year," Mikells said, down from a 3.8 million goal set in February.
Reporting by Sabrina Valle; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa