Even the mightiest energy stocks have felt the pressure of the lower crude oil prices. Integrated mammoth Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) hasn’t been immune to the effects. Exxon stock holders have had to suffer through a few quarters of lower and lower earnings — a sharp contrast to the record-breaking profits it earned just a few years ago.
But there might be a glimmer of hope.
Expect Exxon Mobil to show things are changing for the better when it reports third-quarter earnings before Friday’s bell. The uptick in oil prices and a reduction in the glut of refined products should help XOM’s bottom line.
In general, if we’re past the bottom in crude oil, Exxon should only improve.
No, don’t expect a return to the mega-profits of yesteryear, but even a few bright spots should re-ignite the fire under Exxon stock.
Exxon Earnings Have Nowhere to Go But Up
To say that Exxon is climbing out of the basement would be an understatement.
On the stock side, while XOM is up 20% from its September 2015 lows in the $70s, it’s still 15% off its 2014 highs.
Financially speaking, after crude plunged below $30 per barrel in the second quarter, XOM provided some of its worst quarterly results in a long, long time. Profits were off 59% year-over-year, on revenues that sank 22%. The exploration and production division — the one that actually digs up the crude oil — saw profits devolve into losses.
If it wasn’t for refining — which admittedly wasn’t all that great, either — Exxon would’ve reported a loss for the quarter, as rivals like Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) did.
This quarter should be better.
According to analysts surveyed by data provider FactSet, Exxon should report profits of 59 cents per share of XOM stock on revenues of $62.58 billion. While that still isn’t as much as last year’s numbers (that’s about half), it is better than last quarter by a mile.
If Exxon hits — and especially if it beats — those numbers, expect Exxon stock investors to breathe one enormous sigh of relief.
XOM Fires on All Cylinders
The potential upswing in earnings at Exxon Mobil is being driven by several factors, primarily higher crude oil prices.
Even factoring in recent hiccups, prices for oil have been higher on average during Exxon’s Q3 than its Q2. So has natural gas, which is a godsend for XOM. Higher average prices across both board, then, should translate into bigger E&P profits.
More importantly, Exxon Mobil is controlling a great deal through various cost-reduction programs. XOM reduced capital expenditures by 36% during the first half of the year, but those cuts will take full effect during Q3. Thus, expect Exxon’s oil breakeven price to be reduced, further amplifying the potential for profits.
Meanwhile, downstream and refining assets should lend a hand. Yes, last quarter, a glut of refined products and gasoline helped destroy crack spreads. But in Q3, that excess thinned out and spreads have returned to profit territory. Meanwhile, XOM continues to lean on its high-margin chemicals division. So, the combination of better gas margins and chem demand should also help bolster Exxon’s third-quarter earnings.
The Start of Something Good
Exxon’s third quarter could mark the beginning of the end of lower profits. The energy sector has enjoyed a steady crawl higher for the past few months, thanks to OPEC, the reduction of the crude oil glut here at home and rising overall demand.
In fact, the fourth quarter should be a repeat of Q3, and then some.
As a result, Exxon Mobil stock should be well-positioned to keep hiking its dividend, and overall, XOM looks like one heck of a buy through the end of the year.
As of this writing, Aaron Levitt did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.