updated 7/28/2006 11:26:35 AM ET 2006-07-28T15:26:35

Chevron Corp. said Friday its second-quarter earnings soared to a new high, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy investors whose expectations have been raised by the oil industry’s recent run of eye-popping profit. The company’s shares tumbled.

The San Ramon-based company earned $4.35 billion, or $1.97 per share, for the three months ended in June. That represented an 18 percent increase from net income of $3.68 billion, or $1.76 per share, at the same time last year.

It marks the company’s largest three-month profit in its 127-year history, eclipsing earnings of $4.14 billion registered in last year’s final quarter after energy prices spiked in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Revenue for the period was $53.5 billion, an 11 percent increase from $48.3 billion last year.

As mammoth as it might appear to motorists weary of $3-per-gallon gas prices, Chevron’s profit let down Wall Street. The average earnings estimate among analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial had been $2.21 per share.

“It was still like they were printing money. They just weren’t printing as much as everybody thought,” said industry analyst Fadel Gheit of Oppenheimer & Co.

The company’s shares fell $2.37 to $65.36 during Friday’s morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange, still near the high end of a 52-week range of $53.76 to $68.47.

Chevron would have come closer to hitting analysts’ target if not for a $300 million charge that decreased its earnings by 13 cents per share. The reduction stemmed from the company’s uninsured costs for equipment and oil wells ravaged in by last year’s hurricanes.

The costs of abandoning other projects shaved another 11 cents per share from Chevron’s results, spokesman Don Campbell said. What’s more, some oil produced in the second quarter wasn’t delivered before July, pushing another 11 cents per share of potential earnings into the third quarter, Campbell said.

Chevron’s profit was the smallest among the world’s other major oil companies — a pecking order that underscores the industry’s tremendous moneymaking prowess now that energy prices seem destined to remain at levels that seemed far-fetched as the 21st century began.

Earlier this week, Exxon Mobil Corp., BP PLC, ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell PLC reported second-quarter profits ranging between $5.18 billion and $10.36 billion.

Combined with Chevron, the companies earned $34.6 billion in the second quarter, 36 percent more than the same period last year. Through the first half of the year, the five companies earned $62.8 billion, putting them 20 percent ahead of their record-setting pace last year.

In July, oil prices have climbed even higher, peaking at $78.40 per barrel. Unless conditions shift dramatically, that means the third quarter probably will be even more prosperous for the oil companies than the second quarter, Gheit said.

As the profit rises, the political pressure to impose a windfall profit on the industry seems likely to mount with Congressional elections just a few months away.

“There is no question that there is anger and resentment among voters,” said Tyson Slocum, who oversees energy issues for Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group. when their combined profit of a combined profit of $30.2 billion. “It’s going to become a variable in the November elections.”

The U.S. Senate grilled Chevron Chairman David O’Reilly and his peers last year without taking action against the industry.

Although they may be unhappy with current gas prices, motorists so far haven’t curtailed their consumption. Earlier this week, the U.S. Energy Department said nation’s gasoline demand this summer was running 2 percent higher than last year.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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