PREVIEW-Earnings up but output down at many oil companies

Fri Jul 22, 2011 1:00pm EDT

* Exxon, Shell report Q2 results on Thursday

* BP reports on Tuesday, Chevron on Friday

* Earnings set to rise 42 pct -- Barclays

By Anna Driver

HOUSTON, July 22 (Reuters) - The world's largest oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) and Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSa.L), are expected to report out-sized quarterly profits, but investors are likely to respond with a yawn, focusing instead on the companies' ability to raise output.

Analysts at Barclays Capital expect profits at the oil companies and refiners it follows will increase 42 percent in the second quarter, fueled by a jump in crude prices and global refining margins.

"I think they are all going to post good numbers," said Mike Fox, an analyst at Washington, D.C.-based investment firm Farr, Miller & Washington. "But while the numbers are going to be good, I don't think they will move the stocks."

Investors are already looking past last quarter to the current quarter and seeing crude prices, while still quite high, ease a bit, Fox said.

European benchmark Brent oil LCOc1 is currently trading around $117 per barrel, flat with its average in the second quarter. That price is up from $79 in the same quarter in 2010.

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The gains in oil are expected to help push up Exxon's second-quarter income by 49 percent to $11.3 billion, according to data from Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

BP Plc (BP.L)(BP.N) is forecast to report a 21 percent rise in replacement cost net income, excluding one-time items, to $6.02 billion, according to a Reuters poll of 12 analysts.

Shell, Europe's largest oil and gas company by market value, is expected to report a 59 percent rise in current cost of supply net income, excluding one-time items, to $6.70 billion.

Global refining margins rose in the quarter, driven primarily by demand for fuel such as diesel in developing countries. Gasoline prices in the United States were supported by relatively low inventories, analysts said.

OUTPUT DOWN

Large oil companies have found it difficult to increase production. Investment in massive, long-term exploration projects is required and access to resources is tougher, with many producing nations restricting oil majors' access.

"We expect challenged production to once again present itself as a key theme in this earnings season," analysts at Houston energy investment bank Simmons & Co International said in a note to clients.

In the second quarter, Simmons projects production will decline 3 percent for integrated oil companies, due in part to flooding in North America, continued unrest in the Middle East and North Africa and the effect of higher prices on production sharing contracts.

Analysts at Deutsche Bank see European oil company earnings rising 28 percent in the quarter, but expect oil and gas output to decline an aggregate 7 percent.

"Evidence of a challenging (second quarter) will do little to aid sentiment toward Big Oil," analysts at Deutsche Bank said in a research note.

BP's sale of oil fields to pay for its Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster has eaten into production and profits, with output seen down 11 percent in the quarter.

Shell's output is seen down 1 percent as the start-up of new projects failed to match the impact of a warmer-than-usual second quarter in Europe, which hit demand for natural gas.

Chevron Corp (CVX.N) said on July 11 its second-quarter profit would be higher than the previous quarter, while its output fell in the first two months of the period. [IDn:nN1E76A1P9].

Analysts see Exxon bucking the downward trend, mostly due to output gained from its purchase last year of XTO Energy Inc, a U.S.-based natural gas company, for more than $30 billion in stock.

Simmons expects Exxon's production to rise 12 percent, lifted by big natural gas production from the XTO acquisition.

Other factors that may show up in earnings or production at the biggest oil companies include spring flooding in the United States, continued unrest in the Middle East and North Africa and higher British taxes on North Sea oil and gas producers, analysts said. (Additional reporting by Tom Bergin in London; editing by Andre Grenon)

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