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August 6, 2008 > Big Oil's biggest quarter ever

Big Oil's biggest quarter ever

By John Porretto, AP Business Writer

HOUSTON (AP), Aug 01 _ Oil giants Chevron Corp. and Total SA wrapped up a string of gargantuan, record-breaking earnings reports Friday, a stretch in which six of the major international oil companies topped $50 billion in combined profit for the first time.

While the profits of unparalleled size have brought withering criticism from Washington and disgust from consumers across the country, very few were surprised. Crude prices during the second quarter were nearly double what they were a year ago.

Chevron said Friday its second-quarter profit rose 11 percent to a record $5.98 billion.

Revenue rose significantly to $82.9 billion from $56.1 billion a year ago.

But results for the second-largest U.S. oil company missed Wall Street forecasts and shares fell.

Like its competitors, Chevron made the bulk of its money at its exploration and production arm, also known as the upstream, where income nearly doubled from a year ago to $7.25 billion.

Chevron said the average sales price for crude and natural gas liquids was $109 a barrel in the quarter, up from $57 a barrel in the year-earlier period.

In addition to Chevron, soaring commodity prices led to record quarters for Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips, BP PLC and Royal Dutch Shell PLC. Exxon Mobil stood apart even from this crowd, logging the largest ever quarterly operating profit for a U.S. company. Barring companies that made huge profits on one-time gains like bankruptcy settlements and spin-offs, Exxon Mobil holds the top 10 records for biggest U.S. quarterly earnings.

French energy company Total SA said Friday its profit climbed 38.7 percent in the second quarter to $7.38 billion. Quarterly sales rose 23 percent to $75.25 billion.

Altogether, the profits of the six companies jumped more than 40 percent in the second quarter to $51.5 billion, the first time big Western oil companies have ever reached that level.

Total's earnings were at the top end of analysts' expectations.

Unlike some other oil majors, Total reported production growth of 1.3 percent in the second quarter.

Also Friday, Norway's state-controlled StatoilHydro ASA reported a 37 percent rise in second-quarter net profits to $3.7 billion.

At Chevron, the company division that refines and sells gasoline actually swung to a loss of $734 million in the quarter after earning $1.3 billion a year ago. The culprit: those same crude prices that lifted upstream earnings.

Like its peers, Chevron doesn't produce enough oil on its own to feed its refineries, forcing it to buy some on the open market. And it wasn't able to raise the price of gasoline and other products fast enough to recover its own rising costs for oil.

Chevron also said that planned downtime at some refineries contributed to the loss.

``The higher cost of crude oil used in the refining process was not fully recovered in the price of gasoline and other refined products,'' said Chairman and CEO Dave O'Reilly. ``As a result, our downstream operations incurred a loss in the second quarter, with most of the loss taking place in the United States.''

Chevron said overall production in the quarter fell about 3 percent from a year ago, hurt in part by production-sharing contracts. However, on a conference call with analysts Friday, company officials said project startups will increase production in the second half of 2008 and the company should meet or exceed its full-year volume target.

Chevron shares slipped 71 cents in afternoon trading to $83.85. They've traded in a range of $76.40 to $104.63 in the past year.

Total shares fell 1.2 percent to 48.79 euros ($75.95) in Paris.

____

Associated Press Writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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