updated 4/28/2005 9:43:56 AM ET 2005-04-28T13:43:56

Exxon Mobil Corp., the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, said Thursday that first-quarter earnings soared 44 percent from last year, due mainly to strong crude and natural gas prices. The company said it will boost its share repurchase rate by $1 billion in the second quarter.

Net income surged to $7.86 billion, or $1.22 per share, from $5.44 billion, or 83 cents per share, a year ago. Excluding a $460 million gain on the sale of Exxon’s stake in China Petroleum and Chemical, the company earned $1.15 per share in the latest quarter.

Total revenue climbed to $82.05 billion from $67.60 billion last year.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were looking for the company to post higher operating earnings of $1.20 per share in the latest quarter.

Exxon Mobil said earnings from drilling operations were a record $5.05 billion, an increase of $1.04 billion from the first quarter of 2004, reflecting continued strength in crude and natural gas prices. Earnings from refining and retail sales grew $139 million to $1.14 billion, with improved worldwide refining conditions partly offset by weaker marketing margins.

Chemical earnings were a record $1.28 billion, up $718 million from last year on higher margins.

Capital and exploration expenditures of $3.42 billion in the first quarter of 2005 were up only $16 million compared with last year. However, Exxon Mobil purchased 64 million shares for the treasury at a gross cost of $3.62 billion during the quarter.

The company said that as a result of the continued strengthening of its financial position, the rate of share purchases to reduce shares outstanding will be increased by $1 billion in the second quarter.

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