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UPDATE 3-Exxon posts second straight quarterly loss on demand, price plunge

31 Jul 2020 / 22:45 H.

    (Adds analyst comment, context, Chevron results)

    By Jennifer Hiller

    HOUSTON, July 31 (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp on Friday reported a $1.1 billion second-quarter loss on sharply lower energy demand and prices from the COVID-19 pandemic, and confirmed plans to make "significant" reduction to costs.

    It was Exxon's first back-to-back quarterly loss in at least 36 years, but was small in comparison to rivals who took giant charges last quarter. The top U.S. oil producer took no asset write downs during the quarter, and got a 44-cent-a-share boost to earnings by increasing the value of inventories.

    Chevron Corp, Total, Royal Dutch Shell , and Eni each wrote down their oil and gas properties last quarter by several billion dollars apiece, while BP signaled an up to $17.5 billion hit.

    The pandemic "significantly impacted our second quarter financial results with lower prices, margins, and sales volumes," said Chief Executive Darren Woods.

    Prior to the pandemic, Woods pursued an ambitious spending plan to boost oil output and turn around sagging profits on a bet that a growing global middle class would demand more of its products.

    The plan to significantly raise production and boost cash by selling assets has faltered, leading Exxon to slash capital spending this year by $10 billion. Exxon is preparing deeper spending and job cuts, according to people familiar with the matter, as it fights to preserve an 8% shareholder dividend.

    Exxon has identified a "significant potential for additional reductions and is undertaking a comprehensive evaluation," of its global businesses, it said, without providing details.

    Exxon's oil and gas production business fell to a loss and its refining unit was hit by lower demand and weaker prices.

    The U.S. oil major reported a loss of $1.08 billion, or 26 cents per share, compared with a profit of $3.13 billion, or 73 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding inventory adjustments, the loss would have been $3 billion, it said.

    On that adjusted basis, its per share loss of 70 cents missed Wall Street's estimate of 61 cents, according to data from Refinitiv.

    Exxon's oil and gas output fell 7% to 3.6 million barrels per day during the quarter as it curtailed production due to the oil price crash.

    Rival Chevron on Friday reported an $8.3 billion loss on asset writedowns, plummeting fuel prices, and expenses tied to thousands of jobs cuts.

    Exxon's production business reported a nearly $1.7 billion loss on lower output prices, compared with a $3.3 billion gain last year. Refining generated a $976 million operating profit despite lower margins and volumes. The unit's gain came from an about $3.5 billion boost from non-cash inventory revaluations and by reversing a prior quarter's impairment.

    Chemical operating profit was $467 million, up from $188 million last year, and was "resilient" in a tough environment, said analyst Biraj Borkhataria of RBC Europe Limited.

    The company is running out of capacity to add debt "without jeopardizing the strength of its balance sheet," said analyst Jennifer Rowland of Edward Jones. The losses call into question "how long Exxon can continue to fund its dividend if the macro environment doesn't substantially improve."

    Shares were down less than 1% at $41.53 in early trading. (Reporting by Jennifer Hiller in Houston and Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Jason Neely and Jonathan Oatis)

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