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Rising oil prices help companies to record profits

HOUSTON - Suppose Exxon Mobil decided to return the favor and buy you a tank of gas. Then again, why stop there? The oil giant turned a profit last year fat enough to buy a fill-up for every car, truck and SUV in America - four times.

Beating its own record to rack up the largest annual corporate profit in American history, Exxon Mobil Corp. said Friday it earned $40.6 billion for the year, reaping the benefits of crude-oil prices around $100 a barrel.

Exxon Mobil also topped its own record for profit in a single quarter, posting net income of $11.7 billion for the final three months of the year - about $1 billion more than the same period in 2005, the previous quarterly record.

The annual profit was enough, at $3 a gallon, to buy nearly four 15-gallon fill-ups for the roughly 243 million registered passenger vehicles on American roads. Put another way, it's almost equal to what Microsoft has offered to buy Yahoo outright.

And the quarterly profit alone is about the same as the size of the entire economy of Iceland or Namibia. The previous record for annual profit was $39.5 billion, posted by Exxon Mobil in 2006.

Chevron Corp., No. 2 behind Exxon Mobil among U.S. oil companies, also had its best year ever in 2007, saying Friday that it banked a profit of $18.7 billion.

The results were eye-popping but not a total surprise: For most of the fourth quarter, oil prices hovered around $90 a barrel, 50 percent higher than a year earlier. Crude reached an all-time high of $100.09 on Jan. 3 but has fallen about 10 percent since.

Revenue at Exxon Mobil rose 30 percent in the fourth quarter to $116.6 billion from $90 billion a year ago. For the year, sales rose to $404.5 billion - a figure just slightly lower than the U.S. Defense Department's fiscal 2007 budget.

Exxon Mobil, which produces 3 percent of the world's oil, pegged high commodity prices as the driver for its results but also touted its far-reaching businesses.