ExxonMobil's ( XOM) first-quarter earnings slipped from their gain-swollen, prewar zenith of a year ago, but the oil giant remained immensely profitable in the 2004 period on a 6% revenue increase.

The company earned $5.44 billion, or 83 cents a share, in the latest quarter compared with earnings of $7.04 billion, or $1.05 a share, last year. The year-ago period included a gain of $550 million, or 8 cents a share, from an accounting change plus a gain of $1.7 billion from an asset sale. Revenue rose to $67.60 billion in the latest quarter from $63.78 billion a year ago.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were forecasting earnings of 75 cents a share in the most recent quarter.

ExxonMobil saw operating earnings in its upstream operations, which comprise exploration and production, rise by $20 million from a year ago to $4.01 billion. It cited higher production and strong crude and natural gas prices. Liquids production rose 5% from a year ago to its highest level since the first quarter of 2001. Earnings in Exxon's downstream refining operations rose $281 million to $1.0 billion from a year ago.

On a worldwide basis, net production of crude oil and natural gas liquids was 2.64 million barrels a day in the latest quarter, up from 2.50 million barrels a year ago.

The company said earnings in the latest quarter eclipsed the record it set in last year's first quarter when one-time items were stripped out. The shares were up 28 cents, or 0.7%, to $43.40 on the Instinet premarket session.

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