Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the two largest American oil companies, reported modest earnings growth on Friday as they were forced to manage their businesses in the face of sagging prices for oil and natural gas.
The slowing performance came after record earnings in 2022 in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which sent fossil fuel prices soaring through much of the year. By the end of 2022, declining demand for fuels in Europe and Asia helped lower prices. Refineries have continued to perform well, helping both Exxon and Chevron boost their revenues.
Exxon reported a first-quarter profit of $11.4 billion, compared with $5.95 billion for the same period last year. But the results represented a significant drop from the $12.8 billion earned in the fourth quarter of 2022.
Chevron did slightly better, with a profit of nearly $6.6 billion in the first quarter, an improvement over the $6.3 billion earned in the first quarter of 2022 and $6.4 billion in the fourth quarter of 2022.
“We’re delivering strong financial results and increasing cash returned to our shareholders,” said Mike Wirth, Chevron’s chief executive. Darren Woods, Exxon’s chief executive, noted that his company “delivered a record first quarter following a record year.”
Demand for gasoline, diesel and other fuels have increased as the world economy has emerged from the pandemic slowdown in 2020 and 2021. But despite higher prices for crude and fuels through much of last year, the two companies have been cautious about investing more to raise production.
While both companies have increased production in the Permian Basin, which straddles Texas and New Mexico, they have placed a greater emphasis on returning cash to shareholders by raising dividends and share buybacks.
Exxon, Chevron and other oil companies emerged from 2022 with record profits, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February pushed crude and natural gas prices higher. But fossil fuel prices have since gradually fallen, despite declines in U.S. oil inventories, because investors are increasingly convinced that the global economy and demand for energy are slowing.
In recent days, the price of oil has dropped below $80 a barrel, after a jump to over $120 last June. Prices firmed a bit after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries along with Russia and their allies agreed early this month to cut crude production by 1.2 million barrels a day through the end of the year. Actual cuts have amounted to about half that much, a reduction of less than 1 percent of the global supplies.
Supplies remain robust. Russian oil and gas exports have not declined nearly as much as experts predicted after European countries started buying less of it. That’s because China, India and other developing countries are buying more Russian oil and gas.
Global prices for liquefied natural gas have slumped by 45 percent from the beginning of the year. In the United States, regular gasoline prices have dropped by roughly 12 percent and diesel prices by 14 percent over the last 12 months, according to the AAA motor club. Global demand for oil and L.N.G. are still increasing, but slowly.
The drop in fossil fuel prices is partly the result of unseasonably warm weather in the Northern Hemisphere and particularly Europe this past winter, which reduced demand for natural gas and heating oil. But fears that a global economic slowdown will reduce manufacturing activity have convinced many traders that prices will continue to slide.
There are other reasons gasoline demand might be weak in the coming years. The International Energy Agency this week forecast that globally, one in five new cars sold this year will be electric, compared with 2 percent four years ago. The organization said sales of battery-powered vehicles would accelerate through the decade in China, the United States and Europe.