Exxon Impresses, but Growth Is Still an Issue

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Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

Why are stocks down two days in a row after setting record high upon record high? Perhaps investors are disappointed that the Fed wasn't dovish enough in the statement from this week's monetary policy meeting -- the penultimate meeting of the year. Mind you, with the S&P 500 up 23% year to date in a halting economic recovery, it's not altogether surprising that the market might want to pause to catch its breath. The S&P 500, and the narrower, price-weighted Dow Jones Industrial Average , ended the day down 0.4% and 0.5% today, respectively.

Energy super-major ExxonMobil was in the minority of Dow components that bucked the market's trend today on the back of its third-quarter results. ExxonMobil posted earnings per share of $1.79 on total revenues of $112.4 billion, both of which surpassed Wall Street's expectations for $1.77 and $107.4 billion, respectively.

Nevertheless, revenues fell 2% year-on-year, while net income registered an 18% drop, despite the fact that capital and exploration expenditures for the nine months through Sep. 30 have risen 19% over the prior year period.

As the Financial Times points out today, the combination of ExxonMobil's existing heft, and the strict discipline it adheres to in order to protect its stellar returns, makes it increasingly difficult to find projects that will power this corporate "supertanker" forward. Furthermore, the company is not heavily present in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico or in domestic shale oil, two of the best areas in terms of production prospects.

Exxon's difficulty in achieving growth has not gone unnoticed by investors; the company's shares have badly lagged those of more aggressive peers Chevron and ConocoPhillips, as well as the broad market. The same is true over the trailing five- and 10-year periods:

XOM Chart

XOM data by YCharts

In truth, growth remains a challenge for all of the majors. Chevron reports its third-quarter earnings tomorrow morning: In its interim update for the quarter, issued at the beginning of the month, it said oil and gas production was ahead 2.2% year on year domestically, and 3.1% internationally. According to FactSet, analysts expect Chevron to post $2.69 in earnings per share for the third quarter -- flat relative to the third quarter of 2012.

One lever that ExxonMobil could still pull to please investors: raising its dividend. At 2.9%, Exxon's dividend yield is higher than that of the S&P 500, but falls short of Chevron's (3.3%), and ConocoPhillips' (3.7%).

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The article Exxon Impresses, but Growth Is Still an Issue originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Alex Dumortier, CFA has no position in any stocks mentioned; you can follow him on Twitter @longrunreturns. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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