Exxon Mobil earned $9.25 billion in the last three months of 2010, its most profitable quarter since the record third quarter of 2008.
The largest publicly traded oil company said Monday that net income grew 53 percent in the fourth quarter as it produced more oil to take advantage of higher prices.
Global consumption of petroleum products increased during the quarter and oil prices rose 12 percent to an average of $85.14 per barrel. Higher prices made production operations more profitable. Increased demand boosted margins at refineries.
Exxon joined fellow U.S. oil companies Chevron and ConocoPhillips in reporting vastly improved results.
On a per-share basis, Exxon's net income was $1.85 per share. In the year-ago quarter, the company earned $6.05 billion, or $1.27 per share. Exxon set a record for quarterly net income by a publicly traded company of $14.83 billion in the July-September period in 2008.
Revenue increased 17 percent to $105 billion.
The results beat Wall Street expectations of $1.62 per share on revenue of $99.1 billion, according to FactSet.
Shares rose 1 percent in morning trading to $79.78. Exxon is the biggest U.S. company by market cap, trailed by Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp.
Exxon cranked up production by 19 percent in the fourth quarter. Its exploration and production operations posted income of $1.3 billion in the U.S. and $6.2 billion internationally. Downstream operations, which include refineries, reported earnings of $1.2 billion after losing money a year ago. Exxon's chemicals business reported profits of $1.1 billion.
The company's U.S. natural gas operation, which was greatly expanded last year with its acquisition of XTO Energy, continued to show the effects of lower prices.
The price of natural gas fell 13 percent. The industry has benefited from new technology that can unlock vast underground gas deposits, but increased production has hurt the price. Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron have followed Exxon's lead and bought millions of acres of U.S. gas fields.
Argus Research analyst Phil Weiss said Exxon probably is producing as little gas as possible in the U.S. while relying on profits from elsewhere. In Europe, for example, prices increased 21 percent to $8.23 per 1,000 cubic feet.
"It's something that concerns me," Weiss said. "Exxon says natural gas is undervalued. But if they keep ramping up production, it'll stay that way."
Oil company profits are on the rebound after a weak 2009. Last week, Chevron Corp. said net income soared 72 percent to $5.3 billion for the fourth quarter while ConocoPhillips reported a 54-percent jump. BP reports quarterly earnings on Tuesday and Royal Dutch Shell releases its report Thursday.
For the full year, Exxon Mobil Corp. said it earned $30.5 billion, or $6.22 per share, compared with $19.3 billion, or $3.98 per share, in 2009. Annual revenue increased 32 percent to $383 billion.