Record prices for crude oil. Record prices for gasoline.

Record earnings for Exxon Mobil Corp.

Concluding the most profitable year in the history of American capitalism, the oil giant this morning reported{vbar}http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?p=irol-eventDetails&c=115024&eventID=1452112 that it earned profits just shy of $40 billion in 2006 -- a year when the unprocessed oil pumped from the ground topped $78 a barrel and the refined gas pumped into cars hit $3 a gallon in much of the country.

Prices have moderated substantially since those summertime peaks, and Exxon's earnings for the past three months of 2006 dipped slightly from the year before. For the last quarter of 2006, Exxon reported profit of $10.25 billion, down from the $10.71 billion the company notched at the end of 2005 when it had the most profitable quarter ever for a U.S. corporation.

But for the full year, Exxon reported profit of $39.5 billion -- about $108 million a day, a figure bound to stoke debate about the country's dependence on petroleum at a time when interest in alternative fuels has moved further into the mainstream. The issue was a focus of President Bush's recent State of the Union speech and is a priority among Democrats who now control Congress.

The figure represented a 9 percent increase over its 2005 earnings, most of it from its crude oil operations around the world.

"Yes the earnings are certainly large," said Kenneth P. Cohen, vice president of public and governmental affairs at Exxon Mobil, during a conference call with reporters today. "But so are our capital expenditures and so are the challenges for the industry to find and produce the energy. . . . We need to keep the economy humming."

The company has been under the spotlight for a year now, since it reported record quarterly earnings at the end of 2005. Supply disruptions from Hurricane Katrina pushed fuel prices higher, and the image of the world's largest publicly traded oil company profiting from that event drew fire from public interest groups and some members of Congress.

The company responded that it had pushed its production capacity to the limit in order to help sustain global supply. Its production topped 2.7 million barrels a day of crude oil and natural gas liquids in mid-2006 and remained near that through the rest of the year.

The company was also investing, its executives noted, around $5 billion per quarter on exploration and other capital expenditures meant to improve production.

Staff writer Steven Mufson contributed to this article.