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Big Oil's Message to OPEC: We're Making Good Money, Thanks

  • Free cash flow surges to levels last seen at $100 a barrel
  • First-quarter profit beats expectations as companies adapt
An oil tanker passes near DCOR LLC's Edith offshore oil and gas platform in the Beta Field off the coast of Long Beach, California, on May 18, 2010.
Photographer: Tim Rue/Bloomberg
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From Exxon Mobil Corp. to Total SA, the world’s largest listed oil companies have sent a message to skeptical investors and rivals at OPEC: we can get by in a world of $50 a barrel crude.

Big Oil generated a gusher of cash in the first quarter. The surge shows how a mix of cost-cutting and assets sales -- plus the tailwind of new output from projects approved several years ago -- helped companies to survive and then thrive with prices that are less than half what they were a few years ago.