Political Target: Has Exxon Become Too Successful For Its Own Good?

| About: Exxon Mobil (XOM)

$39.5 Billion. Bigger than the market caps of most publicly traded US companies. That’s what Exxon Mobil bottom lined in 2006. Many call it obscene. Others shake their fist in disgust that one corporation can earn so much taking advantage of the little guy, dependent on the company’s product for survival. Politicos in Washington use this in order to win votes, raising the ire of the grass roots with one-sided and often blind rhetoric.

Even USA Today, “McPaper,” put it this way in an article by Matt Krantz:

Consumers who wondered where some of the $3 a gallon they paid for gasoline this summer ended up might want to take a look at ExxonMobil’s bottom line.

That’s how these stories typically start. This one in particular goes on to break down ExxonMobil’s profit per day ($108.2 million), per hour ($4.5 million), per minute ($75,150) and per second ($1250). I can see the senators salivating upon seeing that data. I for one am embarrassed to have a small position in USA Today parent company Gannett (NYSE:GCI).

The talk in Washington has started already and so has the legislation. One Senator from New York (we will not name her) suggested in the fall that big oil should be forced to pay a portion of their profits into a fund that would seek renewable sources of energy. Wow, what a great idea. Lets punish big oil, how dare they make 50 cents in net profit per dollar of sales. What’s that? Their net margins aren’t 50%; well surely 30% is still reflective of price gouging, and not fair to the consumer. Wait, they don’t earn 30% per dollar of sales? Well, doesn’t matter, 25% is still unfair. We could go on with this drivel, but we’ll stop here. Exxon Mobil’s 2006 net profit margin was 10.46%.

Yes, 10.46%. Thats about 1/3 of Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) profit margin. Less than chewing gum giant Wrigley’s (WWY) 2005 net margin of 12.43%. Hey senator from New York, why don’t you go after Wrigley’s? That’s an obscene amount of profit relative to sales, and it’s to the detriment of gum chewers everywhere. Why not force Wrigley’s to pay into a fund that would seek alternative sources of stuff people can chew? We know, were getting ridiculous here. Gum isn’t imperative for survival, is not a huge cost to consumers, but hopefully you see our point.

We know that energy is a huge issue. But let’s not bite the hand that finds the energy for us. The hand that is taking all of the risk, the hand that has expended billions and billions in what is a highly capital intensive industry. We want them to find more oil; we want the technology to get better, to drill deeper, to extract oil from places where it was not possible 30 years ago. And yes, we want them to earn a profit.

Is it important to identify renewable sources of energy? To be less dependent on foreign oil? Absolutely. But Uncle Sam can’t do it, and should not even try. Sorry, Unc, your track record just is not that great in these matters. You have never shown the ability to effectively deploy capital. Leave it to the private sector. Through technology, companies can now efficiently extract oil from the Athabasca oil sands in Alberta. And our neighbors to the north have a lot of oil sands. Perhaps technology will get to the point that the vast amount of oil shale in Colorado and Utah can one day be utilized. Renewable sources? No, but may buy us some time to develop scalable, efficient renewables. We’re not sure corn is the answer.

In conclusion, we understand the ire this issue creates. We don’t like paying $3.00 a gallon either. But big oil is not the villain here.

Disclosure: author does not have a position in ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), but does have a position in Gannett(GCI) and Wrigley (WWY).

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