Oil major Chevron Corp CVX-N beat market expectations on Friday as profit nudged higher in the first quarter, with earnings from refining compensating for slides in energy prices as well as oil production.
Net profit climbed 5% from a year ago to $6.57 billion or $3.46 per share. Results beat consensus by 4%, according to Refinitiv data. The company’s standout business was refining, where higher margins drove that unit’s income up five-fold to $1.8 billion.
Shares were up less than 1% to $168.26 in afternoon trading.
Chevron’s profit from oil and gas production tumbled 25% on big year-over-year declines in prices.
Production growth in its shale operations disappointed, with Wall Street focusing on tepid results from its Permian shale business. The company said non-operated assets hurt results there.
Brent crude, the global benchmark for oil, traded at an average of $82 per barrel during the first three months of the year, down 16% from a year earlier.
“Brent prices are high, yet down quite a bit. But you are still seeing mid-double-digit returns” for every dollar spent by the company, Chief Financial Officer Pierre Breber told Reuters.
The second-largest U.S. oil firm ended the quarter with $15.7 billion in cash, down 11% from a year ago but some $10 billion above what it needs run the business, Breber said. The company considers it “economically inefficient” to hold so much cash, he said.
“The intent over time is that cash will be returned to shareholders in a steady way,” Breber said.
Chevron would only use the money to pursue deals if there were benefits to shareholders, he added.
“We are always looking,” he said when asked if Chevron was currently discussing acquisitions. “And we have a very high bar because we don’t need to do a deal.”
Capital spending jumped 55% from a year ago to $3 billion, primarily driven by investments in U.S. projects.
Chevron has been increasing production in the United States while decreasing it elsewhere. Total output fell 3% from a year ago to 2.98 million barrels of oil and gas per day on a contract expiration in Thailand and the sale of South Texas shale properties.