CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Fourth-quarter profit at Imperial Oil Ltd (IMO.TO) rose 12 percent on higher oil prices and a better performance from its refineries, Canada's largest producer and refiner said on Thursday.
Imperial, known for its national chain of Esso gas stations and dominant oil sands and heavy oil business, earned $886 million, or 96 cents a share, up from a year-earlier $794 million, or 83 cents.
The profit beat an average estimate of 84 cents a share among analysts polled by Reuters Estimates.
Imperial, which is majority-owned by U.S. oil major Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), said the results were driven by oil prices that climbed by 34 percent to an average $81.25 a barrel from a year earlier, as well as improved refining margins.
The company's four refineries contributed $218 million to the profit, up from a year-before tally of $214 million, which was bolstered by a $70 million gain on tax changes.
Imperial's refinery utilization rose to 93 percent in the quarter, up two percentage points, as it processed more crude and sold more gasoline and other products.
"Operationally it looks like they've done a lot better than we were expecting," said Adam Zive, an analyst at Desjardins Securities.
In the quarter, the company produced 225,000 barrels of oil a day, up from year-earlier 212,000 bpd.
Included in its oil production were 137,000 barrels a day from its Cold Lake heavy oil project in northern Alberta, up 11 percent from a year ago. Its 25 percent share of Syncrude Canada's production contributed 67,000 bpd, down 1,000 bpd from the fourth quarter of 2006, while conventional output was unchanged at 21,000 bpd.
Natural gas output averaged 386 million cubic feet a day, compared with 526 million cubic feet in the fourth quarter of 2006.
Revenue rose 22 percent to $6.7 billion from $5.5 billion.
Full-year profit was a record $3.19 billion, or $3.41 a share, up 4.7 percent from $3.04 billion, or $3.11.
Imperial shares rose 21 cents to $49.36 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday. The shares have risen 18 percent over the past 12 months.
Reporting by Scott Haggett; Editing by Peter Galloway