Exxon Mobil Corp, the world's largest publicly traded oil company, reported its smallest quarterly profit in more than a decade on Tuesday as it felt the sting of sharply lower prices for its products.

The energy giant said its fourth-quarter profit plunged 58 per cent from a year earlier to $2.78 billion US. That was its smallest profit since the third quarter of 2002.

The company lost money in its core oil and gas exploration and production business in the U.S. but saw profits rise at its downstream refining operations, helping to cushion the damage from low crude and natural gas prices.   

Revenues in the quarter plunged by almost a third to $59.8 billion.

Beat expectations

Despite the lower profit and revenue figures, Exxon's top-line and bottom-line results actually beat market expectations, making it the only global energy giant so far to report better-than-expected fourth-quarter numbers.

"While our financial results reflect the challenging environment, we remain focused on the business fundamentals, including project execution and effective cost management," Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson said in a statement. 

For the year as a whole, Exxon reported net earnings of $16.15 billion US. That's half what it earned in 2014. But compared to such competitors as Chevron and BP, who both reported big quarterly losses, Exxon's results shone.

To minimize further damage from low energy prices, Exxon announced it would slash its spending on drilling by a quarter this year and would suspend its share buyback program.

With files from The Associated Press