Energy markets were mixed in the first quarter, with higher crude oil and non-U.S. natural gas prices. Industry refining margins also improved from the fourth quarter. While U.S. chemical margins remain strong, Europe and Asia continued at near bottom-of-cycle conditions.
Turning now to the first quarter financial results as shown on Slide 4. ExxonMobil's first quarter 2012 earnings, excluding special items, were $9.5 billion, a decrease of $1.2 billion from the first quarter of 2011. Our effective tax rate for the quarter was 49%. Earnings per share for the quarter, excluding special items, were $2, down $0.14 from a year ago.
The corporation distributed more than $7 billion to shareholders in the first quarter through dividends and share purchases to reduce shares outstanding.
Of that total, $5 billion was distributed to purchase shares. Through the end of the first quarter 2012, we have repurchased the number of shares issued for XTO, and total shares outstanding are now lower than they were prior to the acquisition.Yesterday, the Board of Directors declared a cash dividend of $0.57 per share, 21% increase from the last quarter. Share purchases to reduce shares outstanding are expected to be $5 million in the second quarter of 2012, unchanged from last quarter. CapEx in the first quarter was $8.8 billion, up 13% from the first quarter of 2011. Across our diverse portfolio, we continued to invest in robust projects through the business cycle to help meet global demand for crude oil, natural gas and finished products while supporting economic growth, including job creation. Our cash generation remains strong, $21.8 billion in cash flow from operations and asset sales. At the end of the first quarter of 2012, cash totaled $19.1 billion and debt was $15.7 billion. The next slide provides additional detail on first quarter sources and uses of funds. Over the quarter, cash increased from $13.1 billion to $19.1 billion, including cash on deposit associated with asset sales which have not yet closed and therefore, are not yet reflected in earnings. Combined impact of strong earnings, depreciation expense, lower working capital and the benefit of our ongoing asset management program yielded $21.8 billion of cash flow from operations and asset sales. Uses included additions to plant, property and equipment or PP& E, $7.8 billion; and shareholder distributions of $7.2 billion. Additional financing and investing activities decreased our cash by $0.8 billion.