The numbers are almost incomprehensible. ExxonMobil reported today that it made profits of more than $36 billion for the year, $10.7 billion of that in the final 92 days of 2005.
That means that during the waning three months of 2005 Exxon was raking in more than $115 million in profits a day. It's a pace that has never been realized by an American company at any time in history.
This astronomical daily take was due, in large part, to the high price of oil. A barrel of crude averaged more than $60 during the fourth quarter, 115 percent higher than the average price of a barrel during the past decade.
A couple of other stunning statistics put the company's record quarter into broader persepective:
- ExxonMobil's profit for the year is bigger than the economies of 125 of the 184 countries ranked by the World Bank.
- If ExxonMobil was a country and the final 92 days of 2005 were its total output for the year (a gross domestic product of $100 billion), it would be the 41st largest economy in the world.
Because integrated oil companies like ExxonMobil own everything from the wellhead to the retail pumps, higher crude prices mean higher profits.
Data from the American Petroleum Institute -- a lobbying group that represents the large oil companies -- show that ExxonMobil's profit margin (the amount of profit they earn for each dollar of revenue) was 10.7 percent during the last three months of 2005. They made a dime of profit for every dollar they took in.
When compared with other industries, the profit margins seem almost paltry. Internet giant Yahoo had a 45.5 percent margin in the fourth quarter. Bank of America saw margins of 26.7 percent.
But that doesn't defray public outrage over the record profits at a time when they are paying high prices for everything from heating oil to gasoline. Several members of Congress renewed calls for a windfall profits tax on the industry after today's announcement from Exxon.
Analysts say that much of the record oil company profits will be rolled back into expanding exploration and production efforts. The firms are working to grab a bigger piece of the global oil market because prices are expected to remain high in the coming years.
Oil giants BP and Shell have yet to report their fourth-quarter earnings, but analysts expect both to report record annual profits in the coming week.
Thomson Financial says that the oil industry will see earnings go up by around 45 percent overall during the October to December timeframe when all is said and done.