Exxon, Chevron results augur tough year ahead, shares drop 3%

HOUSTON, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Weaker crude oil and gas prices drove quarterly results sharply lower at Exxon Mobil Corp and Chevron Corp, pushing down shares at the two largest U.S. oil producers and signaling a weak start to the new year.

While one-time asset sales or write downs were large factors, the two companies said earnings suffered from weaker margins in crude oil, chemicals and fuel production. They gave tepid outlooks for the near term.

Shares of Exxon and Chevron were both at least 3% lower in morning trade on the mixed results and worries about slowing global economic growth.

Fourth-quarter results at Exxon fell below Wall Street’s recently lowered estimate, with earnings of $5.6 billion, down from $6 billion a year ago. Its per share profit excluding one-time gain from asset sales was 41 cents, below Wall Street’s estimate of 43 cents and 71 cents prior to a recent warning.

Chevron swung to a loss of $6.61 billion from a year-earlier profit of $3.73 billion. The company had $10 billion in charges including writedowns on the value of oil and gas properties that were no longer economic to pump. Excluding charges, its $1.49 cent a share profit topped estimates.

This week, Royal Dutch Shell’s shares hit a three-year low after it laid out a plan to pull back on share buybacks amid slower global growth and weak commodity prices.

Exxon CEO Darren Woods said its natural gas, refining and chemicals businesses have suffered from near or at decade-low prices. Exxon will keep investing in new projects, he said, describing the margin weakness as “a short-term impact.”

Reporting by Jennifer Hiller and Gary McWilliams; Editing by David Gregorio