Exxon Corp. announced yesterday it had first-quarter earning of $1.925 billion, more than twice what it earned in the same quarter last year and by far the highest quarterly profit any corporation even has reported. Exxon is the nation's largest industrial corporation as ranked by 1979 sales.
The company's first-quarter revenues rose 47 percent from $18.825 billion a year ago to $27.649 billion. Earnings per share climbed from $2.16 to $4.40.
Shell Oil Co., the country's eighth-largest oil company, reported its first-quarter profits increased 67 percent from $224 million in 1979 to $373 million. Its revenues rose from $3.076 billion to $4.798 billion, and its per-share earnings went from $1.47 to $2.42.
Two other large oil companies, Standard Oil Co. (Ohio), and Occidental Petroleum Corp., also reported very large increases in their first-quarter profits.
Occidental had a spectacular 236 percent jump in earnings, from $82.6 million in last year's first quarter to $277.9 million. However, the company said $119.6 million of its latest first-quarter profits were the result of transactions involving gold and silver sales contracts rather than its normal operations.
Occidental's revenues climbed from $1.8 billion a year ago to $3.3 billion in the latest quarter. Per-share earnings rose from $1.04 to $3.62.
Sohio's 169 percent gain in earnings stemmed almost entirely from higher prices and higher production of its Alaskan crude oil. Sohio Chairman Alton W. Whitehorse said. The company's earnings rose from $167.5 million in the first quarter of 1979 to $450.7 million. Revenues increased from $1.65 billion to $2.51 billion.
About 30 percent of the jump in Exxon's profits -- $314 million -- resulted from foreign exchange gains recorded as the U.S. dollar strengthened against most other currencies during the first quarter, the company's chairman, C. C. Garvin Jr., said.
These are gains and losses not on actual transactions but on changes in the dollar value of money owed by the company that must be paid in a foreign currency. Because of the recent decline in the dollar's value, Garvin said Exxon has "lost" about $130 million so far this month on this same "paper" basis.
Unlike the first half of last year, Exxon's earnings from oil and natural gas operations increased faster in the United States than they did aboard. Domestic earnings from such operations rose 86 percent to $656 million, while foreign profits from similar operations increased 61 percent to $977 million.
Prior to the Exxon performance, the largest one-quarter profit by any corporation was the $1.44 billion earned by American Telephone & Telegraph Co. in the third quarter of last year.
"Extreme care should be used when attempting to form judgements on the basis of the earnings estimates just announced," Garvin cautioned. "The results of any short time period are not necessarily indicative of earnings over a full year. This may be particularly true of the 1980 first-quarter results in view of the current volatility in world petroleum and foreign exchange markets."
Texaco officials issued a similar warning Tuesday when that company reported a 98 percent jump in its first-quarter earnings.
Most industry analysts expect the rate of increase in profits to slow sharply compared to the year-earlier quarter as 1980 progresses, but profits to remain at a very high level.
Although a weakening dollar may reduce Exxon's second-quarter earnings, a new tax treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom will provide Exxon with a $70 million one-time refund of advance corporate income tax payments in the U.K., Garvin said.
In the 12 months ended in March, Exxon earned a 23.6 percent return on stockholders equity compared with an average return for all industries during 1979 of 15.9 percent.
Garvin said the $228 million increase in earnings from the exploration and production segment of U.S. petroleum operations from $310 million last year was due to "improved selling prices for both crude oil and natural gas under the various applicable regulatory measures . . ."
The Exxon chairman said that during March -- the first month in which the recently enacted windfall tax on crude was in effect -- the company received about an additional $60 million as the result of the Carter administration's phased decontrol of domestic crude oil prices. "Of this added revenue, Exxon retained only $8 million, that is 13 percent, with the balance paid mainly as higher taxes to the federal government," Garvin declare.
Sohio's Whitehorse said the Department of Energy is about to change its regulations under which refiners using Alaskan crude now receive a special "entitlement" payment from refiners using low-cost domestic crude. The present regulation, adopted at a time when some refiners were buying foreign crude in preference to that from Alaska, adds more than $5 a barrel to the refinery profit on each barrel of Alaskan crude.
The change would force Sohio to raise its pump prices for gasoline, which are the lowest in the nation and which have been bitterly attacked by Sohio competitors, who have been demanding the regulation be changed.
Part of Sohio's increased earnings were due to higher production of crude oil -- 726,200 barrles a day this year compared with 575,000 last year -- and higher refinery output even with a strike of refinery workers this year. The gains by Shell and Exxon, however, came on lower volume.
Reflecting the sharp drop in oil demand in the United States and most other nations, Exxon's daily sales of refined products fell from 6.03 million barrels in the first quarter of 1979 to only 5.34 million barrels this year.
Similarly, Shell's higher profits were earned despite a drop in the daily sales of refined products from 1.11 million barrels in the 1979 first quarter to 888,000 barrels this year.