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(Updates nut graph, adds context on RINs, renewable dieselproject)
Feb 11 (Reuters) - U.S. refiner PBF Energy Increported a bigger-than-expected loss in the fourth quarter, hitby uneven demand for fuel due to COVID-19 restrictions and alower refining margin.
The company joined other U.S. independent refiners inreporting multi-billion dollar losses in 2020 as demand hasstruggled to regain footing after multiple waves ofcoronanvirus-induced travel restrictions were enacted globally.
The refiner reported a loss of $1.4 billion in 2020,following its competitors Valero, Marathon Petroleum andPhillips 66. In 2020, U.S. fuel demand fell 12% from theprevious year due to the pandemic.
"PBF's fourth-quarter, and full-year, results reflect thecontinuing headwinds brought on by the global pandemic andattendant demand destruction for our products," Chief ExecutiveOfficer Tom Nimbley said.
He added that although there are some signs of improvement,"we expect demand to remain depressed until vaccine distributionis improved, so that everyone can return to their normalroutines."
U.S. refining margins were below $10 - the threshold abovewhich most refiners make money - for the majority of the fourthquarter of 2020.
The resurgence of coronavirus cases across the world hascomplicated the recovery in fuel consumption worldwide.
PBF also said it expects refining capital expenditures to beabout $150 million for the first six months of 2021. It aims toreduce operating expenses across the company by $200 million to$225 million annually.
It expects near-term throughput for the company's refiningsystem to be between 675,000 barrel per day and 725,000 bpd.
Total crude oil and feedstocks throughput in the quarter was62.3 million bpd, down from 65 million bpd in the third quarter.
On a sequential basis, gross refining margin, excludingspecial items, declined 68.5% to $60.8 million.
The company's adjusted loss widened to $547.4 million, or$4.53 per share, in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, from$346.6 million, or $2.87 per share, in the third quarter.
Analysts were expecting a loss of $3.17 per share, accordingto Refinitiv IBES.
PBF also said it completed its East Coast refiningreconfiguration and is continuing a strategic review of itsportfolio.
PBF plans to engage the Biden administration about potentialchanges to the Renewable Fuels Standard after RINs pricesclimbed tenfold in 2020, said company president Matthew Lucey.
"The prior administration made attempts to level the playingfield but left the situation worse than when they started,"Lucey said.
The refiner said it is assessing the possibility of arenewable diesel project at the Chalmette, Louisiana refinerythat could produce 15,000 to 20,000 barrels per day of the fuel.
"Chalmette happens to have an idled hydrocracker with anample supply of hydrogen," said Lucey.
(Reporting by Laura Sanicola in New York and Arunima Kumar inBengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Andrea Ricci)