Exxon Mobil Corp., the highest-weighted energy company in the S&P 500 index, saw its free cash flow vastly improve in the first quarter due to a combination of higher operating cash flow and lower capital expenditures. The period's operating cash flow grew to $9.3 billion from $6.3 billion in the first quarter of 2020, and capital expenditures were $3.1 billion vs. $5.9 billion. Management is budgeting capital expenditures of $16 billion to $19 billion this year, which is below its long-term $20 billion to $25 billion target.
However, it is early to draw any conclusions that it can continue driving higher free cash flow to support returning cash to shareholders. Examining Exxon Mobil Corp.'s free cash flow over the last 20 years, it has frequently outspent free cash flow on dividends and share repurchases.