Why Exxon Earnings Can Still Support That High Dividend

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Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) reported estimated third-quarter 2015 results before markets opened Friday. The integrated oil and gas giant posted quarterly diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $1.01 on revenues of $67.34 billion. In the same period a year ago, the company reported $1.89 per share on revenues of $107.13 billion. Third-quarter results also compare to the Thomson Reuters consensus estimates for EPS of $0.89 on revenues of $63.75 billion.

Profits in the third quarter fell 47%, from $8.07 billion in the year-ago quarter to $4.24 billion. Oil equivalent production rose 2.3% year over year, with liquids up 13% and natural gas production down 10%. As a percentage of revenues, costs rose from about 87% in the third quarter of 2014 to more than 91% this year.

In the upstream division profits fell from $6.4 billion in the third quarter of 2014 to $1.36 billion. The entire decline was attributed to lower realized prices for liquids and natural gas.

In the downstream division, profits totaled $2.03 billion, up from $1.02 billion year over year. Stronger margins boosted earnings by $1.4 billion. Lower volumes, currency exchange issues and maintenance decreased earnings by about $390 million. Refined product sales totaled 5.8 million barrels a day, down by 211,000 barrels a day year over year.

Liquids production increased by 3.6% to 2.33 million barrels a day, an increase of 266,000 barrels a day. Natural gas production slipped by 1.07 billion cubic feet per day year over year. U.S. upstream operations posted a loss of $442 million, down from a profit of $1.26 billion in the same quarter a year ago.

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Capital and exploration spending in the quarter totaled $7.67 billion, down from $9.84 billion in the third quarter of 2014.

During the second quarter of 2015, Exxon distributed $3.6 billion to shareholders, including share buybacks totaling $500 million. The company paid a quarterly dividend per share of $0.73, up from $0.69 per share in the third quarter of last year. The stock’s dividend yield is 3.6%.

Rex Tillerson, Exxon’s CEO, said:

We maintain a relentless focus on business fundamentals, including cost management, regardless of commodity prices. Quarterly results reflect the continued strength of our Downstream and Chemical businesses and underscore the benefits of our integrated business model.

For the quarter, cash flow from operations and asset sales totaled $9.7 billion, including proceeds associated with asset sales of $491 million. In the third quarter of 2014, cash flow from operations and asset sales totaled $12.5 billion. For the first nine months of 2015, cash flow from operations totaled $27.6 billion and capex totaled $23.6 billion.

The company did not provide guidance in its press release, but analysts expect fourth-quarter EPS of $0.74 on revenues of $65.39 billion, compared with EPS of $1.32 and revenues of $87.28 billion in the third quarter of 2014. For the full year, analysts are looking for EPS of $3.86 on revenues of $266.26 billion.

Exxon’s shares traded up about 0.7% in Friday’s premarket, at $82.80 in a 52-week range of $66.55 to $97.20. Thomson Reuters had a consensus analyst price target of $81.84 before this report.

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