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Exxon’s profit rises in quarter, helped by higher oil prices

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HOUSTON — Exxon Mobil, the largest American oil company, reported a 53 percent increase in its fourth-quarter profit on Monday, helped by an improving world economy that has increased energy demand and crude prices.

It was the strongest quarterly profit in more than two years, reflecting the strong recovery in oil markets. They soared in 2007 and 2008, collapsed in 2009, and returned to loftier heights by the end of 2010.

“It’s a home run,” said Fadel Gheit, managing director for oil and gas research at Oppenheimer & Company. “It’s a big positive earnings surprise on strong operating results across all business segments underpinned by strong production growth, higher oil and gas prices and improved margins.”

Exxon’s performance was in line with the strong results of most other large energy companies, which have benefited not only from rising oil prices but also from improved margins in their refinery businesses.

Nevertheless, the results do not equal the record profits set a few years ago, when oil and gas prices were far higher than they were at the end of last year or even today.

Oil prices have been steadily creeping up in recent months to over $90 a barrel, settling on Monday at $92.19. The turbulence in Egypt has made traders skittish about the possibility of shortages of supplies if the Suez Canal is somehow blocked or political tensions spread to nearby Saudi Arabia. But natural gas prices, which are increasingly important to big oil companies, which have been increasing their gas investments in recent years, remain depressed.

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