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Noble Energy returns to a profit in 4th quarter

HOUSTON (AP) -- Noble Energy returned to a profit in its fourth quarter, bolstered by strong sales of crude and condensate. Its performance beat analysts' estimates.

The Houston energy company said Thursday that it earned $251 million, or $1.39 per share, for the three months ended Dec. 31. That compares with a loss of $296 million, or $1.67 per share, a year ago.

Stripping out an impairment charge and the impact of an unrealized commodity derivatives gain, earnings from continuing operations were $1.65 per share.

Analysts polled by FactSet expected $1.12 per share. The estimates typically exclude one-time items.

Revenue rose to $1.17 billion from $897 million. This topped Wall Street's forecast of $1.14 billion.

Crude and condensate sales rose more than 17 percent from the prior quarter. Sales volumes from continuing operations increased 18 percent from a year ago, after adjusting for assets sold last year.

Noble Energy said Thursday that DJ Basin volumes improved in the quarter. The basin is centered in Colorado, but extends into parts of Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas. Production in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania climbed 19 percent from the subsequent quarter.

Crude oil prices fell 2 percent from the prior-year period to $97.98 per barrel, on average.

For the full year, Noble Energy Inc. earned $1.03 billion, or $5.71 per share. In the previous year it earned $453 million, or $2.54 per share. Annual revenue increased 24 percent to $4.22 billion from $3.4 billion.

The company's stock slipped 80 cents to $112.52 in midday trading after rising as high as $114.38 earlier in the day, a new all-time record.