Bethelhem Steel Corp. yesterday reported it earned $60 million less in the second quarter than for the same period a year ago.

And Standard Oil Co. of California, the nation's fourth-largest oil company, reported second-quarter earnings rose 39.7 percent from levels of a year earlier to $535 million. Like several others, Socal attributed the profit gain largely to rising crude oil prices and higher oil and natural gas production levels.

Donald H. Trautlein, chairman and chief executive officer of Bethlehem, the nation's second largest steel producer, also predicted the company will go into the red for the next quarter of this year. "We remain hopeful, however, that the anticipated improvement in shipments in the fourth quarter will result in a moderately profitable year," Traulein said.

Bethlehem said that second-quarter net income fell to $43.1 million (98 cents a share) from $103.1 million ($2.36) a year earlier as sales declined to $1.642 billion from $1.838 billion.

The first-half sales were nearly unchanged at $3.571 billion compared with $3.572 billion a year ago. However, Bethlehem said net income was $97.5 million ($2.23) versus $162.3 million ($3.72) in the first half of 1979.

Trautlein and Bethlehem has decided to defer construction of several capital projects in the beginning stages. But he said construction of a new coke oven battery at the Sparrows Point plant and the two-furnace melt shop at the Johnstown, Pa. plant are continuing and both projects are expected to be completed by 1981.

Projected capital expenditures for 1980 now are estimated to be between $500 million and $550 million, with about $45 million to $55 million of that amount for environmental control facilities. Previous estimates of capital expenditures for 1980 had been in the range of $550 million to $600 million.

"The level of capital spending for 1981 and beyond will depend on improved profitability and satisfactory cash flow, which in turn depend to a great extent on general economic conditions and the federal government's response to a number of policy issues that the domestic steel industry has raised." Trautlein said.

He also said "the domestic steel industry experienced an abrupt business downturn during the second quarter. Indications of an economic recession and a sharp decline in order entry which began in March foreshadowed this change. However, we did not expect the downturn to occur so rapidly, or to include such a broad spectrum of the ecomony."

Trauleinsaid the company also had closed several coal mines which represent about 2 million tons of capacity.

"These are steps we do not like to take, particularly as they affect out employes, but they are absolutely essentail under present conditions," he said. e

Bethlehem said 2.62 million net tons of coal were shipped during the second quarter compared with 3.55 million net tons a year earlier. Raw steel production for the second quarter of 1980 was 3.85 million net tons compared with 5.14 million net tons a year earlier.

Socal, the last major U.S.-based oil companies to report second-quarter profits, said it earned $535 million ($3.13 a share) in the period against $383 million ($2.24) a year ago. Sales rose to $10.6 billion from $7 billion.

In the first half, Socal earned $1.16 billion ($6.80), up from $726 million ($4.25) in the first half of 1979. Sales climbed to $21.1 billion from $13.9 billion.

Socal said its return on equity, a widely used measure of profitability comprising the ratio of net income to the book value of shareholders' stock, was 22.9 percent on an annulaized basis in the first half.

The oil industry recorded a 25.2 percent return on equity in the year ended March 30, while 880 major companies in 40 industries had a 17 percent return, according to Business Week magazine.

Others reporting second-quater earnings last week included No. 1 Exxon Corp., up 24.1 percent to $1.03 billion; No. 2 Mobil Corp., up 64.6 percent to $688 million; and No. 3 Texaco Inc., up 49 percent to $502.9 million.

Socals said in San Francisco its petroleum earnings in the United States jumped to $178 million in the second quarter from $88 million a year before, while foreign petroleum earnings climbed to $276 million from $245 million.

Socal said its domestic petroleum product sales rose 4 percent from a year ago to about 1.26 million 42-gallon barrels a day. Several other major refiners, including Mobil and Gulf Oil Corp., earlier reported declining product sales in the quarter as rising prices sparked conservaton moves by motorists and homeowners.

World crude oil prices have more than doubled since the Iranian revolution and cutback in oil production in late 1978 set off an 18-month long oil price spiral.

The pace of the price gains has slowed sharply in recent weeks as the conservation steps and a recession in the United States cut petroleum demand by nearly 8 percent from last year's levels and resulted in mushrooming oil inventories.