Exxon profit jump a sign of recovery in energy

Exxon Mobil Corp.’s profit more than doubled in the first quarter of the year as the oil and gas giant signaled a strengthening in business amid a reprieve in commodity price depression.

The results from Exxon, the largest U.S. oil company, indicate this could be the best quarter for energy companies in some time, with the price of oil starting to claw back from a prolonged swoon. Still, optimism has been tempered as oil has stalled just below the $50-a-barrel mark.

Shares of Exxon, down 10% so far this year, climbed 1.5% premarket to $82.44.

Earnings growth for oil-and-gas companies could hit double digits in the first quarter of 2017, said Joseph Tanious, senior investment strategist for Bessemer Trust. “When oil prices were dipping lower, that was having a drag on the overall results for the S&P 500,” he said. “Now we’re seeing the opposite of that.”

Chief Executive Darren Woods said Exxon’s results in the quarter “reflect an increase in commodity prices and highlight our continued focus on controlling costs and operating efficiently.”

Mr. Woods took the helm last quarter from Rex Tillerson, who was tapped by President Donald Trump to serve as U.S. Secretary of State.

For the March quarter, Exxon reported its profit surged to $4.01 billion, or 95 cents a share, from $1.81 billion, or 43 cents a share, a year earlier. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had been expecting 85 cents a share.

Revenue jumped 30% to $63.29 billion. Analysts were looking for $64.73 billion. Exxon in the previous quarter had recorded its first increase in quarterly revenue in more than two years.

The exploration and production, or upstream, business swung to a $2.3 billion profit from a $76 million loss a year ago. In the U.S., the upstream division narrowed its loss to $18 million from $832 million the year before.

In the refining and marketing, or downstream, business, earnings were $1.1 billion, up $210 million from the year-earlier period, lifted by improved volume and mix.

Write to Anne Steele at Anne.Steele@wsj.com

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