Exxon Mobil, the world's largest publicly traded oil company, said Thursday that record crude prices helped its first-quarter profit climb...

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HOUSTON — Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, said Thursday that record crude prices helped its first-quarter profit climb 17 percent to $10.9 billion — the second-biggest U.S. quarterly corporate profit ever.

But the results still fell short of Wall Street’s lofty forecasts, and Exxon Mobil shares fell almost 4 percent.

The company’s refining operations limited its overall earnings growth, because prices for crude rose even faster than the increase drivers see at the gasoline pump.

Lower production to start the year hurt, too.

“In an environment of high commodity prices, Exxon Mobil’s outstanding portfolio of integrated businesses performed well, allowing us to deliver record first-quarter results,” Henry Hubble, the company’s vice president of investor relations, said on a conference call.

Investors, however, didn’t seem overly impressed; Exxon Mobil shares fell $3.37, or 3.6 percent, to $89.70. They’ve traded in a range of $77.55 to $95.27 in the past year.

The company, which produces 3 percent of the world’s oil, said earnings at its exploration and output, or upstream, business rose 45 percent to $8.8 billion with help from higher oil and natural-gas prices.

Increased natural-gas production was more than offset by lower crude volumes.

Overall production fell 5.6 percent from a year ago, in part from natural field declines and maintenance.

In a note to clients, Citigroup analyst Doug Leggate said Exxon Mobil’s results “clearly disappointed versus expectations,” but noted a “good suite of new projects” will likely keep its production stable in the future — a positive note given the challenge of finding new sources of fossil fuel.

The company had said in March it expected to invest $25 billion to $30 billion on capital and exploration projects this year, up from about $21 billion in 2007.

On the refining and marketing side, earnings were off 39 percent from a year ago to nearly $1.2 billion.

The company said significantly lower worldwide refining margins reduced earnings by about $1 billion in the quarter.

Those margins reflect the difference between the cost of crude and what the company makes on refined products such as gasoline.

Exxon Mobil said earnings for the first quarter came to $2.03 a share, up from $9.3 billion, or $1.62 a share, a year ago.

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial were looking for $2.13 a share.

But at $10.9 billion, the profit still ranks as the second biggest for a U.S. company.

The only larger result in a three-month period was the $11.7 billion Exxon Mobil posted in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Revenue rose to $116.8 billion from $87.2 billion a year earlier. Analysts were looking for revenue of about $124 billion.

Crude prices averaged nearly $100 a barrel in the first quarter, up from roughly $58 a barrel a year ago.

Analysts have attributed the spike to growing global demand, speculative trading and a weak dollar, among other factors.