Chevron profit rises on refining gains, asset swap

Chevron Corp posted a larger-than-expected rise in quarterly profit on Friday as its refining arm managed to improve earnings despite a fire that crippled the company's oldest refinery last August.

The second-largest U.S. oil producer said fourth-quarter net income rose to $7.2 billion, or $3.70 per share, from $5.1 billion, or $2.58 per share, a year earlier.

The results included a gain of $1.4 billion from a deal with Royal Dutch Shell Plc , announced in August, in which Shell swapped interests in two fields off Australia for Chevron's holdings in the Browse liquefied natural gas project in Australia.

Leaving out one-time items, Chevron earned $3.27 per share, topping analysts' average estimate of $3.03, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Shares of Chevron rose 0.4 percent to $115.64 in premarket trading.

Including the asset swap gain, earnings in the oil and gas production business rose 20 percent to $6.9 billion, and refining operations posted a profit of $925 million, compared with a loss of $61 million a year before.

Chief Executive John Watson said the company has now led the industry in earnings per barrel from oil and gas production for three years. "Our downstream businesses also delivered highly competitive earnings per barrel," he said in a statement.

Fourth-quarter upstream production was 2.67 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, up from 2.64 million bpd a year earlier.

Increasing output from the wellhead has been a struggle this year for Chevron and for Exxon Mobil Corp , Shell and ConocoPhillips . Shares of Conoco fell on Thursday after its production outlook disappointed investors.

Chevron is still trying to get its Richmond refinery in California recovered from the fire that damaged its crude unit, which is expected to be fixed this quarter. The state's workplace safety regulators slapped a record fine on Chevron on Wednesday in connection with the accident.

(Reporting by Braden Reddall in San Francisco; editing by John Wallace)