Fueled by widening demand for crude oil in the U.S. and Israel, Noble Energy (NBL) reported on Thursday a much stronger-than-expected fourth-quarter profit, though its shares slipped in morning trade as its revenue missed Wall Street estimates.

The Houston-based company posted net income of $52 million, or 29 cents a share, compared with $8 million, or $1.01 a share, in the same quarter last year.

Excluding one-time costs, including certain impairments and commodity derivative loss, the company earned $1.04 a share, ahead of average analyst estimates polled by Thomson Reuters of $1.01.

Revenue for the oil and natural gas explorer was $783 million, up from $760 million a year ago, narrowly missing the Street’s view of $789.75 million.

“Noble Energy's fourth quarter ended 2010 with great results, based on a portfolio of strong global production and cash flows,” Noble Energy CEO Charles D. Davidson said in a statement. “We are entering the new year in a very strong financial position, focused on executing a broad lineup of exploration and development projects that continue to transform Noble Energy.”

Sales were driven by stronger volumes, up 6% to 219 million barrels of oil equivalent a day from the year-earlier period. Onshore U.S. volumes increased slightly to 97 MBoe/d from 90 MBoe/d a year ago, driven by increased liquid production in the Central DJ basin.

Noble’s international segment climbed 4%, helped by continued market demand for natural gas in Israel and higher crude oil volumes in the North Sea.

Earnings were also cushioned by increased crude oil prices.

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