Profits continue to gush at ConocoPhillips ( COP). The oil major on Wednesday toppled Wall Street expectations with fourth-quarter operating profits of $3.51 a share -- up 145% from a year ago -- that beat the consensus estimate by 44 cents. Operating income jumped 152% to $2.48 billion on revenue of $40.1 billion. The company, which benefited from record energy prices, posted significant growth across all its major business lines. "Operationally, we performed very well during the fourth quarter," said CEO Jim Mulva. And "our financial position continues to steadily improve." High energy prices helped boost profits for the company's largest division, exploration and production, by 69% to $1.67 billion. Earnings from the refining and marketing division, lifted by the company's ability to process discount-priced crude oil, surged 273% to $753 million. And profits in the chemicals division, which enjoyed higher margins and volumes than a year ago, rocketed 655% to $83 million. For the full year, total operating income jumped 77% to $8.11 billion or $11.57 a share. On average, analysts were expecting earnings of $3.07 for the fourth quarter and $11.12 for the year. Shares of ConocoPhillips rose 91 cents to $89.81 early Wednesday.
But to some, companies like ConocoPhillips seem almost too good to be true. Just last week, for example, Deutsche Bank analyst Paul Sankey downgraded ConocoPhillips from buy to hold on the conviction that business -- which has gone so well for so long -- is bound to get worse. Sankey cut the stock even though he expected ConocoPhillips to more than double year-ago earnings, and blow past the consensus estimate, with fourth-quarter profits of $3.21 a share. "Ultimately, names such as ConocoPhillips ... can revalue higher," he wrote. "But for now, we believe such investment feels highly risky."