Exxon Mobil Corp reported a 23 percent decline in its fourth-quarter profit on Monday, topping Wall Street expectations, as weak demand for fuel in the global economic slowdown hurt the largest U.S. oil company's refining business.

Oil and gas production increased nearly 2 percent in the quarter, better than some analysts had expected. Exxon also reported results in its chemical business that surpassed analysts' views.

Exxon and other companies that process oil into gasoline, diesel and heating oil have seen refining margins crushed as crude prices climbed more than 30 percent in a quarter where industrial demand was depressed by economic weakness.

Net income in the quarter was $6.05 billion or $1.27 per share, compared with $7.82 billion, or $1.54 per share in the same period a year earlier.

Wall Street analysts had expected a profit of $1.19 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The two things I like to see drive an earnings beat are better production and better margins, Phil Weiss, oil analyst at Argus Research, said. They certainly got the production,

Exxon's worldwide refining unit had a loss of $189 million, compared with a year-ago profit of $2.41 billion.

Last week, No. 2 U.S. oil company Chevron Corp posted a 37 percent drop in quarterly profit, while top U.S. refiner Valero Energy Corp sank to a quarterly loss and slashed its dividend.

Exxon's chemical earnings were $716 million, up sharply from $155 million in the 2008 fourth quarter. The company's

exploration arm earned $5.78 billion, up from $5.63 billion a year ago.

Revenue in the quarter rose 6 percent to $89.84 billion,

Exploration and capital spending totaled $27.1 billion in 2009, up nearly 4 percent from a year ago. The company has said it expects to spend $25 billion to $30 billion each year over the next 5 years.

Exxon shares rose 2 percent from Friday's close of $64.43 in premarket trading.

BP Plc will report on Tuesday and Royal Dutch Shell Plc will release results on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Matt Daily in New York, editing by Dave Zimmerman)