Lower oil prices pushed Exxon Mobil Corp.'s first-quarter profit down 46 percent, but the results still beat Wall Street expectations.
Exxon said Thursday that it earned $4.94 billion — a huge sum but the weakest first quarter for the oil giant since 2009. A year earlier, Exxon earned $9.10 billion.
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When world oil prices collapsed from about $100 a barrel to less than $50 over the second half of last year, it made some drilling projects unprofitable. Exxon is beginning to cut costs — the company said last month that it would trim capital spending this year by 12 percent, to $34 billion, and the CEO expects relatively low oil prices to stick around.
First-quarter profit also fell at BP PLC and France's Total SA. Royal Dutch Shell reported an increase because last year's results were weighed down by one-time charges.
Exxon's production in the first quarter rose 2 percent compared with a year ago, as energy flowed from new projects from the U.S. to Papua New Guinea, so the profit plunge was entirely from lower prices.
Exxon lost money on exploration and production in the U.S. — it earned $1.2 billion from that drilling a year ago. Production outside the U.S. remained profitable, but the earnings fell by more than half. Refining and marketing earnings rose.
The profit worked out to $1.17 per share, down from $2.10 per share a year earlier. The average estimate among 11 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was 80 cents per share.
Revenue fell 36 percent, to $67.62 billion.
With the collapse in prices, outfits that help drill have laid off thousands of workers. The oil companies are adjusting their techniques to pull even more oil and gas out of wells, some of which were drilled just a few years ago.
Fundamental changes could be necessary because industry officials don't expect energy prices to surge anytime soon. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson said at an industry conference last week that low prices are "going to be with us for a while."
The slump in oil prices has hurt the stock market valuation of some companies, and could add to pressure from Wall Street for Exxon to boost production with an acquisition that would match Shell's announced purchase of BG Group PLC.
Exxon continues to return money to shareholders. On Wednesday, it announced a 6 percent increase in its dividend that will cost around $168 million per quarter.
Shares of the Irving-based company were up $1.13 to $89 in trading before Thursday's opening bell. The shares were down 5 percent in 2015 at Wednesday's closing price.