International oil company BP Plc raised its dividend on Tuesday as it delivered a stronger than expected third quarter result and prepared for a court battle with U.S. authorities over its 2010 U.S. Gulf oil spill.

Third quarter underlying replacement cost profit fell to $5.2 billion from $5.5 billion a year ago as a shrinking business, lower production and lower crude prices took their toll, but the effect was masked by a co-incidence of strong refining margins and the company's highest availability of refinery capacity in years.

The result was ahead of analysts' expectations of around $4.1 billion and up from $3.7 billion in the second quarter.

BP jacked up its dividend by 12.5 percent to 9 cents a share, its second dividend increase in less than a year, as it attempts to restore investor confidence in the wake of the Macondo spill, which temporarily stopped the flow of shareholder payouts.

BP has fallen to a distant fourth in the rankings of top tier of oil and gas companies after the Macondo well disaster and amid uncertainty over the future of its Russian operations.

(Reporting by Andrew Callus)