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UPDATE 2-Phillips 66 posts smaller-than-expected Q1 loss as refining margins improve

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(Compares with estimates, adds background and details on the result)

April 30 (Reuters) - U.S. refiner Phillips 66 reported a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss on Friday, helped by improved refining margins as storm-related disruptions and demand for travel boosted fuel prices.

Vaccination programs and easing restrictions have boosted travel and increased gasoline consumption in recent months from the COVID-19-led lows last year, while refining outages in February following a winter storm in Texas further buoyed margins.

That helped Phillips 66 double its refining margins to $4.36 a barrel from the prior quarter. Rival Valero Energy also saw its refining margin surge 33% sequentially.

The deep freeze in February in U.S. central and Gulf Coast regions led to shut downs at numerous refineries and chemical plants for weeks.

Phillips had warned earlier this month that its chemical plants ran at about mid-70% of capacity, down from a projected mid-90%. Adjusted pre-tax income in the segment fell 9.3% to $184 million sequentially.

The refiner posted its fifth straight net loss that stood at $654 million, or $1.49 per share, for the three months ended March 31, compared with a loss of $539 million, or $1.23 per share, in the prior quarter.

On an adjusted basis, it reported a loss of $1.16 per share, compared with Wall Street's expectation of a loss of $1.40, according to Refinitiv IBES.

Crude utilization rate also rose to 74% in the first quarter, up from 69% in the fourth quarter, but remained well below the company's worldwide utilization of 83% in the year-ago quarter.

Phillips 66 also said it had completed diesel hydrotreater conversion at its San Francisco Refinery in Rodeo, which will ramp up to 8,000 barrels per day of renewable diesel production by the third quarter. (Reporting by Arunima Kumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)