Exxon Mobil

(XOM) - Get Report

retreated early Thursday after the oil giant said first-quarter profit rose 44% from a year ago, but missed Wall Street's estimates.

For its first quarter ended March 31, the Irving, Texas, company earned $7.86 billion, or $1.22 a share. That's up from $5.44 billion, or 83 cents a share, a year ago.

Excluding special items, latest-quarter earnings were $1.15 a share. That misses the Thomson First Call estimate by a nickel.

As the majority of energy companies to date have reported better-than-expected or in-line earnings results, this comes as a disappointment from the world's largest oil producer.

Exxon Mobil shares were recently down $1.37, or 2.4%, to $57.01, helping drag the Amex Oil Index down 0.8%.

What apparently led the company to post lower earnings was weaker natural gas production and lower marketing margins both within and outside of the U.S.

First-quarter natural gas production fell to 10,753 millions of cubic feet per day, down from 11,488 a year ago. This reflects natural field decline in mature areas, lower demand in Europe and divestment impacts, the company said.

On an oil-equivalent basis, production decreased by 5%.

In the marketing segment, selling its motor fuel wasn't as successful. The company said non-U.S. downstream earnings, excluding Sinopec, were $498 million, down $114 million due to lower marketing earnings.

Exxon takes a breather

Although it realized high refining margins and higher refinery throughput in the U.S., earnings were offset by "weaker marketing conditions," Exxon said.