Fourth-quarter profits from shrinking British oil company BP Plc beat analysts expectations on Tuesday thanks in part to a record performance from its refining division as a trial in the U.S. over its 2010 U.S. Gulf oil spill looms later in February.

BP, the western world's No. 3 oil company and the last of the big four to report quarterly earnings, said fourth-quarter net profit, adjusted for non-operating items and accounting effects, fell to $3.98 billion from $4.99 billion a year earlier, mainly as a result of tens of billions of dollars worth of asset sales to pay for its spill liabilities.

Analysts had expected a quarterly profit of $3.31 billion.

(Reporting by Andrew Callus)