SAN RAMON -- Chevron's first-quarter profit plunged 27 percent, with earnings of $4.51 billion squeezed by weaker oil prices and slumping production levels, the energy giant reported Friday.

The company's profit of $2.36 a share fell short of Wall Street's expectations of $2.51, and revenue of $53.27 billion missed analysts' predictions of $57 billion. The company's shares fell 0.2 percent, or 22 cents, to close at $124.72 Friday.

San Ramon-based Chevron said lower oil prices and reduced volumes for production of crude oil were the primary culprits behind the weaker profits.

However, it said it is poised for significant growth in production and profits, primarily on the strength of major projects. Those include two huge liquefied natural gas projects off the coast of Western Australia known as Gorgon and Wheatstone, and a large oil and natural gas project in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico known as Jack/St. Malo.

"We made substantial progress on our major capital projects," Chevron CEO John Watson told analysts during a conference call. "Gorgon is about 76 percent complete while Wheatstone is about 27 percent complete."

Gorgon should begin production in 2015, while the Jack/St. Malo project is expected to start producing by the end of this year.


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Chevron believes production will increase in 2015 and grow by 20 percent in 2017.

In recent years, much of Chevron's focus has been on its upstream -- exploration, development and production of oil and natural gas -- which has become a big driver of company profits.

However, in the first quarter, Chevron upstream profit fell 27 percent, totaling $4.31 billion. Profit for downstream operations -- primarily refining and retail -- rose 1.3 percent, totaling $710 million.

During the January-March period, Chevron produced the equivalent of 2.59 million barrels of oil, down 2.3 percent from the year-ago first quarter.

"I still like Chevron's approach, even if 2014 is a bit of a lull for them," said Brian Youngberg, an analyst with investment firm Edward Jones. "Chevron is the most profitable on a per-barrel basis of the big oil companies."

Chevron's per-barrel cash profit, before certain expenses, is about $37 a barrel, compared with about $28 a barrel in profit for the company's nearest competitors, according to a company presentation.

"There are reasons to be optimistic about Chevron, and it's not a hypothetical prediction, it's real, given the multiple high-impact projects that will be starting over the next 24 months," said Pavel Molchanov, an analyst with investment firm Raymond James. "Production growth should average about 5 percent a year in 2015, 2016 and 2017."

Contact George Avalos at 408-859-5167. Follow him at Twitter.com/georgeavalos