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Chesapeake Energy 4Q profit falls

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Chesapeake Energy posted a 40 percent decline in fourth-quarter net income with the glut of natural gas continuing to subdue prices, but the company easily beat Wall Street expectations and shares edged higher.

Natural gas accounted for 77 percent of its production in the fourth quarter, down from 82 percent a year earlier as it shifts production because of falling prices. It collected $2.07 per thousand cubic feet in the most recent quarter, down from $3.87 a year ago. Those prices include the impact of settled bets on the direction of natural gas prices.

Chesapeake predicted that 2013 production would be about flat with 2012, once planned asset sales are factored in.

The company earned $257 million, or 39 cents per share, for the quarter that ended Dec. 31. That was down from $429 million, or 63 cents per share, during the same period last year.

Revenue rose almost 30 percent to $3.54 billion, from $2.73 billion a year earlier.

Not counting one-time items, it would have earned $153 million, or 26 cents per share.

Wall Street had been looking for per-share earnings of 14 cents, according to analysts surveyed by FactSet, on revenue of $2.99 billion.

For all of 2012, it posted a net loss of $940 million, or $1.46 per share, because of a big charge to write down the value of its natural gas-producing property. In 2011 it earned $1.57 billion, or $2.32 per share.

Those values can shift from year to year, and would rise with the price of natural gas.

Revenue rose 5.9 percent to $12.32 billion.

Shares rose by a dime to $20.34 in morning trading.

The results came a day after Chesapeake's board said an investigation into outgoing CEO Aubrey McClendon's personal financing deals with company partners found "no intentional misconduct" by McClendon or any other company managers.

Last spring Reuters reported that McClendon received loans of $1.4 billion from an investment firm called EIG Global Energy Partners that was negotiating a separate oil and gas deal with Chesapeake.

The probe found that the deals did not improperly benefit McClendon or increase costs to Chesapeake.

McClendon, who founded Chesapeake Energy Corp. in 1989 and saw it become the second largest natural gas producer in the U.S., was stripped of his role as board chairman in May.

Last month Chesapeake said McClendon would leave the company in April amid philosophical differences.