Exxon Mobil (XOM) recently reported the biggest quarterly operating profit in U.S. history, but not all is flush for the oil giant.

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Exxon Mobil (XOM) recently reported the biggest quarterly operating profit in U.S. history, but not all is flush for the oil giant.

Just one of its three units, the “upstream” unit, which pulls oil from the ground, reported higher year-over-year profit on skyrocketing crude prices. But that helped mask an 8 percent drop in production of oil and gas, particularly in Africa.

Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil’s refining and marketing unit, which turns crude into gasoline, is struggling with weak profit margins.

The industry is contending with input costs rising faster than output. The company plans to sell its retail gasoline stations, which have low margins, in coming years. Exxon Mobil’s chemicals unit also is suffering from weaker margins; it produces the building blocks for plastics, among other items.

Adding to the pressure, Exxon Mobil is a lightning rod for criticism on Capitol Hill: Four Democratic House and Senate members recently sent letters to big oil producers, demanding they spend less on stock buybacks — which benefit shareholders — and more on research and exploration.

Investors will likely focus on whether Exxon Mobil can boost its production of oil and gas, says Credit Suisse analyst Mark Flannery. He rates the stock “outperform,” saying production volumes could grow in 2009 with the startup of big projects in Qatar and the Gulf of Mexico.