updated 1/25/2006 9:40:59 AM ET 2006-01-25T14:40:59

ConocoPhillips Co., the nation’s third-largest integrated oil and gas company, said Wednesday its fourth-quarter profit ballooned as prices and refining margins remained strong versus a year ago.

Earnings expanded to $3.68 billion, or $2.61 per share, from $2.43 billion, or $1.72 per share, a year ago. ConocoPhillips posted income from continuing operations of $3.78 billion, or $2.69 per share, versus $2.48 billion, or $1.76 per share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial predicted earnings of $2.62 per share.

In the exploration and production segment, earnings from continuing operations increased to $2.43 billion from $1.67 billion in the same quarter last year. Higher natural gas prices and volumes boosted results, while crude oil prices were lower and exploration expenses rose, the company said.

Income from continuing operations in its refining and marketing business increased to $1.06 billion from $753 million a year ago but declined from $1.39 billion the third quarter. Refining margins slimmed from the third quarter, as the aftereffects of the hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast continued to hurt volumes and raise costs.

Revenue surged to $50.2 billion from $40.1 billion in the year-earlier quarter.

ConocoPhillips recorded production of 1.9 million barrels of oil equivalent per day in the recent quarter, relatively flat year-over-year.

The company’s worldwide crude oil refining operations ran at 88 percent of capacity in the quarter, as a Louisiana refinery remained shut due to damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in August. In the 2004 fourth quarter, capacity utilization was 94 percent.

Profit for the full year jumped to $13.53 billion, or $9.55 per share, from $8.13 billion, or $5.80 per share, in 2004. Full-year revenue increased to $183.4 billion from $136.9 billion in 2004.

ConocoPhillips is the third-largest integrated oil and gas company in the U.S., behind Chevron Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp.

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