Net income falls 11 percent in Exxon Mobil’s first quarter

NEW YORK – It was an especially tough quarter for Exxon Mobil.

The company produced less oil and natural gas. Profits dropped at its chemical plants and U.S. refineries. And its overall net income fell 11 percent, the first decline in quarterly earnings since late 2009.

The results, announced Thursday, signaled a tough year ahead for Exxon and the rest of the petroleum industry. Even after spending billions of dollars hunting for oil at the bottom of the ocean, in the frigid waters of the Arctic and deep underground in North American shale rock, Big Oil is failing to keep up with growing world oil and gas demand.

“When you get as big as Exxon, it’s hard to keep growing,” said Blake Fernandez, an analyst with Howard Weil Inc. “There’s only so many projects you can take on at the same time.”

On top of that, the cost of oil, which rose 14 percent in the U.S. during the quarter, kept Exxon from earning bigger profits on the chemicals and gasoline it sold.

There was some positive news for investors. The company sold oil for higher prices around the world, and international natural gas prices rose by 16 percent. Profit rose for its international refining operations. Exxon also plans to boost its quarterly dividend by 21 percent, the largest increase since 1975, making it the biggest corporate dividend payer.

Even so, Exxon shares fell 78 cents Thursday to $86.07.

A handful of trends are keeping oil companies from pumping more oil and gas. Existing fields produce less as they get older. New wells are tougher, and more expensive, to find.

And some of the world’s best resources are controlled by foreign governments that want to keep their oil revenue at home. They typically offer contracts that limit the amount of oil and gas that partners, such as Exxon, can sell as prices rise.

Mexican truckers protest for clearer rules, safer vehicles

MEXICO CITY – U.S. union groups complained for years about dangerous Mexican trucks. Now even Mexican truckers are fed up.

Francisco Leyva of the Alliance of Mexican Transport Organizations says truckers are demanding clearer, fairer rules on vehicle weights and dimensions. Leyva says loopholes allow some companies to run double-trailer trucks with 100 tons of freight on small, two-lane roads.

His organization launched roadside protests Thursday with banners and placards denouncing the sort of double-trailers that have been involved in two recent accidents that killed dozens of people. One trailer came loose earlier this month and hit a bus carrying university students. A similar accident last week killed 43 bus passengers in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.

Mexican officials insist such trucks would never cross the border.

S&P cuts credit ratings, says Spain’s outlook is negative

NEW YORK – Standard & Poor’s is lowering Spain’s long-term credit rating by two notches, saying budget problems are likely to get worse because of Spain’s weak economy.

S&P is downgrading the long-term sovereign credit rating to “BBB+” from “A,” lowering the short-term rating and assigning a negative outlook.

S&P said it thinks Spain’s government will have to give further support to the banking sector.

— From news service reports