Exxon quarterly profit to feel pinch of weaker natural gas, chemical earnings

Logo of the Exxon Mobil Corp is seen at the Rio Oil and Gas Expo and Conference in Rio de Janeiro

By Shanti S Nair

(Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp said on Monday lower natural gas and chemical margins in its second quarter would offset improved crude and refining operations, pointing to flat profits sequentially and down from a year-earlier.

The U.S. oil major said in a securities filing http://bit.ly/2RL5hMp it expected improved crude prices to boost second-quarter profit by $400 million to $600 million. However, natural gas prices which have dropped to multi-year lows in the face of tepid demand, were expected to offset it by an equal measure.

RBC Capital Markets analysts in a note said the magnitude of weakness across refining, chemicals and natural gas and the lack of sequential improvement, "leaves us heading into another disappointing quarter for Exxon's earnings momentum."

Jennifer Rowland, analyst at Edward Jones, expects second-quarter upstream earnings to be weaker compared with a year ago. She lowered the brokerage's profit estimates to 88 cents per share from 95 cents previously. That is below Wall Street's mean estimates of 97 cents and the year-ago quarter's 92 cents a share.

"We have to be more patient with their turnaround plan," said Rowland.

Exxon said weaker margins in its chemical business is expected to reduce second-quarter profit by $100 million to $300 million over the first quarter. It also estimated a potential gain of $200 million over the first quarter from a lack of impairment charges.

The company is scheduled to release its results on July 26.

Rowland expects refining and marketing to return to profitability due to higher margins while chemicals should continue to post weaker results given lower margins and scheduled maintenance.

In April, the company reported first-quarter profit that slumped 49% to $2.4 billion and missed analysts' estimates due to a weakness across its major businesses.

Exxon shares, which have risen about 12% this year to Friday's close, ended the day off 7 cents a share at $76.56 compared with a 0.1% rise in the S&P 500 Energy index as a result of oil prices that steadied as OPEC extended supply cuts until March 2020 during a meeting in Vienna.

(Reporting by Shanti S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Lisa Shumaker)