By AP Business Writer
updated 1/27/2006 10:37:07 AM ET 2006-01-27T15:37:07

Chevron Corp.'s earnings rose 20 percent to a record high in the fourth quarter on the strength of high fuel prices, lifting the oil company to the most profitable year in its 126-year history.

The San Ramon, California-based company said Friday that it made $4.14 billion, or $1.86 per share, during 2005's final three months. That compared with net income of $3.44 billion, or $1.63 per share, in the previous year.

Its previous best quarter was the second quarter of 2004 when it earned $4.13 billion.

Revenue totaled $53.8 billion, a 26 percent increase from $42.7 billion in the comparable 2004 period.

Despite the robust gains, the quarterly earnings fell 3 cents below the average estimate among analysts polled by Thomson Financial

For all of 2005, Chevron earned $14.1 billion, or $6.54 per share, eclipsing its previous highest annual profit of $13.3 billion established in 2004.

Chevron's profit would have been even higher if not for extensive damage to its Gulf of Mexico operations caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita during August and September.

Those devastating storms hobbled a major Mississippi oil refinery, as well as the Chevron's natural gas production, preventing the company from taking full advantage of a sharp run-up in energy prices.

Chevron estimated the decreased production in the Gulf of Mexico lowered its annual profit by about $1.4 billion, with about half the loss occurring during the fourth quarter. The company has since repaired most of the damage, but its production continues to lag below levels before the hurricanes.

Like other companies in its industry, Chevron benefited from dramatically higher oil and natural gas prices — a spike that reflected shortages created by the damages caused by Katrina and Rita.

In the United States, Chevron's average price for crude oil and natural gas liquids averaged about $52 per barrel during the fourth quarter, up more than 35 percent from the previous year. The company's average sales price for natural gas — the fuel that many households need to heat their homes — surged 69 percent to $10 per thousand cubic square feet during the quarter.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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