Spindletop Oil Well CentennialMany were praising the wisdom of the vertically integrated oil company business model pioneered by John D. Rockefeller Sr. when ExxonMobil and Chevron today posted higher than expected third quarter earnings that were buoyed by their downstream operations. Oil price decreases weighed on upstream performance, which is typically where these companies generate most of their profits.

Exxon’s Q3 profits increased 3% year-on-year and Chevron reported a 13% increase. ConocoPhillips however – the next largest US-based oil major – reported a 9% increase, but Conoco spun off its refining business in 2012. These companies all clearly have very different asset portfolios, hedging strategies, foreign exchange positions and countless additional factors that dictate their financial results, but judging their top-line performance, it might be too soon to declare either business model a clear winner.