BP Shows What Is To Come For Big Oil Earnings (BP, COP, XOM, CVX)

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A year ago, shares of BP plc (NYSE: BP) closed near $41. Yesterday the shares closed near $42, about 15% below the stock’s 52-week high. When the company reported third quarter earnings last night, the CEO said that it had “reached a definite turning point.” Whether that’s true or not depends on your definition of ‘turn’.BP reported net profit of $4.9 billion, way better than the $1.79 billion in profit in the same period a year ago. But last year the impact of the company’s Gulf of Mexico disaster lopped $3.7 billion off quarterly profit, while this year the charge was a modest $187 million. For the nine month-period in 2010, BP took charges of $25.7 billion, compared with $378 million so far this year. Eliminating the charges, BP’s performance has been about flat with last year.Tomorrow we get earnings from ConocoPhillips Corp. (NYSE: COP), then Thursday brings the quarterly report from Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM), and Friday concludes the big oil company earnings week when Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) reports. There’s good reason to believe that these three stories will be similar to BP’s.

Chevron provided an interim update about two weeks ago suggesting that it expected its third-quarter profit would be essentially flat sequentially. Conoco and Exxon do not follow Chevron’s lead, so there’s no reason to expect flat performance from either — except that the two indications we have are not encouraging for a blowout quarter.

Conoco is expected to post EPS of $2.18 on revenue of $63.2 billion. That’s a 45% boost in profits year over year and a 34% jump in revenue compared with the third quarter of 2010. But sequentially, Conoco’s EPS estimate is lower than its EPS of $2.41 last quarter, and estimated revenue is lower than the second-quarter’s total of $66.96 billion. Conoco’s earnings for the first six months of 2011 are basically flat with the same period in 2010.

Exxon’s performance so far this year has been considerably stronger on both the profit and revenue side. Exxon’s profits have risen 54% in the first six months of 2011 compared with the same period a year ago, and revenues are up more than 30%. Exxon is expected to report EPS of $2.13 on revenue of $113.6 billion.

Chevron’s interim report indicated that production in the third quarter would be about the same as second-quarter production and prices are expected to be lower. Analysts expect EPS of $3.44 on revenue of $67.9 billion. The EPS estimate is lower sequentially, but about 84% higher than the third quarter of 2010. EPS last quarter was $3.85.

Refining margins and higher liquids prices are contributing the most to the earnings outlook for the big oil companies, while production is down. In a weak global economy, this is about what could be expected as the companies try to prop up their prices.

BP opened up nearly 4% this morning, at $43.45, in a 52-week range of $33.62-$49.50. Conoco is down about -1.5%, at $71.01, in a 52-week range of $58.37-$81.80. Exxon is down less than -0.1%, at $80.10, in a 52-week range of $65.09-$88.23. Chevron is down about -0.3%, at $105.99, in a 52-week range of $80.412-$109.94. The weaker stock prices on those companies still to report this week could signal some wariness about these companies’ ability to hit those EPS targets.

Paul Ausick