Exxon-Mobil earnings could please the bears

Look for Exxon-Mobil's (XOM) first-quarter earnings report before the market opens Thursday to settle a tug-of-war between the institutional bulls and bears.

The bulls feel Exxon-Mobil's outlook is turning positive, due to firming oil prices and stable refining margins, particularly for gasoline. The bears argue that Exxon-Mobil is likely to post sequentially lower quarterly earnings results for at least all of fiscal 2009, due to a high inventory levels for oil globally, and on sentiment that the U.S. and global economies will not to begin to recover before the fourth quarter.