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IEEFA: ExxonMobil reserve portfolio posts small quarterly return despite price increases

April 30, 2021
Tom Sanzillo and Clark Williams-Derry

April 30, 2021 (IEEFA) — Despite an extraordinary rise in the price of oil for ExxonMobil’s U.S. operations, the company’s U.S. reserve portfolio managed a meagre $363 million in earnings, according to an IEEFA analysis of its first-quarter earnings report.

Exxon's U.S. Upstream Profits Are Elusive

Oil prices rose to an average of $56.20 during the first quarter of 2021, a 44 percent increase from the $39.06 posted during the last quarter of 2020.

“ExxonMobil has been pouring billions into the Permian Basin since 2013,” said Tom Sanzillo, IEEFA director of financial analysis. “The earnings report of $363 million this quarter—when oil prices took off—represents more an accounting gimmick than an actual return for investors.”

The Irving, Texas-based supermajor reported spending $3.1 billion on capital expenditures during the first quarter, including $800 million on its U.S. upstream operations. Weak earnings in ExxonMobil’s upstream portfolio have become common. Since 2013, it has invested more than $60 billion in U.S. upstream operations while posting $6 billion in cumulative losses.

“Do the math,” said Clark Williams-Derry, an IEEFA energy finance analyst. “ExxonMobil’s U.S. upstream segment bled cash for the quarter, after factoring in capital expenditures. The company’s U.S. oil and gas portfolio continues to underperform.”

Tom Sanzillo ( is IEEFA’s director of financial analysis.

Clark Williams-Derry ( is an IEEFA energy finance analyst.


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Tom Sanzillo

Tom Sanzillo is Director of Financial Analysis for IEEFA. He has produced influential studies on the oil, gas, petrochemical and coal sectors in the U.S. and internationally, including company and credit analyses, facility development, oil and gas reserves, stock and commodity market analysis, and public and private financial structures. He also examines such areas as community and shareholder activism, institutional investment, public subsidies and Puerto Rico’s energy economics.

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Clark Williams-Derry

Clark Williams-Derry focuses on the finances North America’s oil, gas, and coal industries. His areas of expertise include: the long-term financial performance of North American oil & gas companies, particularly fracking-focused enterprises; company- and basin-specific studies of oil and gas production; U.S. LNG exports in the context of global markets; and U.S. and Canadian coal export projects.

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