Exxon posts strongest results since 2017, pledges to resume share buybacks

By Sabrina Valle and Arathy S Nair

(Reuters) -Exxon Mobil on Friday pledged to revive a share repurchase program next year as its earnings outlook improved on quarterly results that topped analysts’ estimates.

The largest U.S. oil producer posted an adjusted profit of $1.58 a share, beating the Refinitiv estimate by two cents, with results lifted by oil and gas prices that have more than doubled in the past year.

Third-quarter results reflected soaring natural gas prices, improving refining margins and supply shortages that pushed oil to a three-year high during the quarter. Crude prices have continued to climb to a near seven-year high.

All the company’s three businesses delivered higher returns within the backdrop of a recovering global economy, Chief Executive Darren Woods said in prepared remarks.

“These factors contributed to significant free cash flow during the quarter, which enabled us to further reduce debt and more than cover the dividend,” Woods said.

A day after Woods appeared before Congress to address the company’s previous dismissal of global warming, Exxon said it plans to spend $15 billion to cut its carbon emissions between 2022 and 2027.

Its strong cash flow outlook will allow the company to fund the carbon reductions and next year to resume share buybacks under a plan to spend up to $10 billion on repurchases through 2023, Exxon said.

Exxon in 2016 cut its share repurchases amid weak results, saying it would buy back shares only to offset dilution from executive pay plans as opposed to returning cash to shareholders.

The oil major reported net income of $6.75 billion, or $1.57 per share, in the third quarter, compared with a loss of $680 million, or 15 cents per share, in the same period last year.

The company said its current quarter will benefit from higher oil and gas volumes, increased European seasonal gas demand and the $1 billion sale of its UK North Sea assets.

Exxon shares are up than 50% this year, as earnings bounced back from last year’s historic loss, but remain below where they traded in early 2020. This year’s profit has allowed the company to repay about $11 billion in debt taken on last year to cover for its dividend.

“Results shows the company’s renewed confidence in its business by being able to spend significantly more next year, spend more on low carbon solutions while raising the dividend and starting to buy back stock”, said nAish Kapadia, director of energy at Palsies Advisors consultancy.

(Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Steve Orlofsky)

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