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Demand and Price Wave Boosts Oil Company Profits, Though Recovery Concerns Keep Investors Nervous

The second largest U.S. oil company, Chevron Corp (NYSE: CVX), has reported a three-fold increase in quarterly profits, with Q2 net income jumping to $5.4 billion ($2.70 per share) from $1.75 billion for the same quarter last year, and revenue increasing 32% to $53 billion. As a further vote of confidence, the company has announced an unlimited stock repurchase plan.

Chevron’s numbers come from rising production, together with higher energy prices and strong margins. The average per barrel sales price for oil and other liquids was 34% higher than it was a year ago, while the sales price for natural gas jumped 18%. The announcement by Chevron follows strong earnings reports from other oil giants, including Exxon Mobil Corp (NYSE: XOM) and Royal Dutch Shell Plc (LSE: RDSA.L).

Oil companies pushed production as oil and gas prices increased, reflecting a rise in consumer demand coming off of a two year slump, although oil prices have now fallen below $78 per barrel as investors continue to worry about the staying power of any recovery. Prices fell midweek to under $77 per barrel, bouncing back on Thursday. A negative report on consumer confidence, together with a higher than expected inventory report from the Energy Information Administration, put pressure on prices.

And pressure is continuing with just released government data showing weaker than expected second quarter economic growth. Quarterly GDP rose at only 2.4%, down from a first quarter rise of 3.7%. In spite of recent positive signs, few doubt that U.S. housing is still in trouble, with government incentives not seen as a meaningful fix. Foreclosures have long since moved beyond the world of sub-prime borrowers, with unemployment becoming an increasing factor. In many communities, almost anyone who purchased a home during the price peak faces foreclosure if they need to move, and the average American moves every 5-10 years.

Nevertheless, oil company earnings remain impressive. Bank of America upgraded shares of ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) from sell to neutral, after a strong earnings report earlier in the week. The big exception: British Petroleum (NYSE: BP), which announced that it lost a record $17 billion in the second quarter, as it confirmed that CEO Tony Hayward would be replaced with American Bob Dudley.

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