has reached the bottom of the oil barrel.
The American energy giant reported a 63 percent fall in its first-quarter profit on Friday. Its rivals and were hurting, too, as crude fell below $30 in January before investment cuts helped ease the excess supply and push up the price of oil. Recovery will be slow and patchy, but the worst is probably past.
Cost cuts helped Exxon surprise Wall Street, but the company’s $1.8 billion in net earnings was its lowest quarterly sum since 1999. Chevron, meanwhile, reported its second consecutive loss as crude prices averaged about $34 a barrel from the start of the year through the end of March. And Conoco’s net loss of $1.5 billion was twice as big as Chevron’s.
There are reasons to start thinking the only direction from here is up. Brent crude oil has already recovered from its January nadir to $48 a barrel. What’s more, unlike last year’s brief surge back above $60, this latest uptick has a better chance of sticking.
Saudi Arabia keeps pumping, but two years of less spending on exploration across the industry is taking its toll. United States crude production this month slipped below nine million barrels a day for the first time since late 2014. That’s a notable drop from the weekly high of more than 9.5 million barrels in July.
Big producers have also adjusted their business models to withstand low prices, even as smaller producers with weaker balance sheets struggle to survive. Along with cutting capital spending by more than a quarter since 2014, with further reductions likely this year, the industry has killed projects, dropped buybacks and fired workers. In Conoco’s case, even the sacred dividend was slashed.
Investors have been anticipating a rebound. Before the Friday earnings reports, Exxon shares had gained 20 percent and Chevron 30 percent from their January lows. Conoco’s are up 50 percent since mid-February.
The rally may not be sustainable. Iran’s return to the global crude market and a potential recovery in shale production – if prices continue to rise steadily – could yet prove to be impediments. For Big Oil, however, the barrel is at least now only half empty.