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    Exxon, Shell, BP Realize Record Profits

    Despite refining snafus, oil companies see biggest returns in two years.

    NEW YORK -- The combination of oil trading at upwards of $100 a barrel and natural gas prices on the rise has ExxonMobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell and BP realizing their highest respective earnings in two years.

    ExxonMobil's net income rose 25 percent to $11.6 billion, a figure based on the average of six analyst estimates, according to Bloomberg News. Eight analysts polled by the news service forecasted Shell to gain approximately 4.9 percent, climbing to $6.88 billion, which excludes one-time items. BP is expected to a jump to 32 percent or $5.26 billion, also excluding one-time items.

    While BP spokesman Toby Odone told the news agency its own survey was close to the reported figure: $5.27 billion, Shell spokesman Wim van de Wiel told Bloomberg News the company's average analyst estimate is higher at $6.77 billion. ExxonMobil will report on May 1.

    While oil hit $100 for the first time this January, it rose to $111 last month with no signs of slowing. During the same time period, natural gas increased 22 percent on average.

    "It's obviously all about the oil price," Edward Collins, a London-based money manager at New Star Asset Management Group Plc, told Bloomberg News. Collins, who handles four funds as part of $41 billion of investments, including BP and Shell shares, added "Refining margins were weak in the quarter, particularly in the U.S."

    ExxonMobil remains the world's biggest oil company, at $495 billion. Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson recently noted initiatives that include expanding the company's search for reserves to New Zealand, Brazil and the Arctic. The company also recently signed a 25-year extension last month to its agreement in Malaysia, where ExxonMobil pumps 150,000 barrels of crude and 1.2 billion cubic feet of gas daily.

    To counter lost production in Nigeria and Russia, Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer told the news service that the company will mine Canadian oil sands and continue to develop Qatari gas-to-liquids venture. According to a company press release, an attack last week on a Nigeria pipeline cut as much as 169,000 barrels a day of output. In total, similar attacks have halted more than 20 percent of exports from the country, the fifth-biggest supplier to the U.S.

    BP's CEO Tony Hayward forecasts that output will rise 13 percent during the next five years to about 4.3 million barrels a day, and that the company will sustain production of at least 4 million barrels a day until 2020. Bloomberg News reported that BP's Texas City refinery, its largest in the country, started a crude distillation unit last month that had been closed since 2005, when a fatal explosion and a hurricane damaged the plant.

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