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Ultra Petroleum shares tumble on weak 4Q results

HOUSTON (AP) -- Shares of Ultra Petroleum Corp. tumbled to their lowest price in more than eight years on Friday, after the natural gas producer said it posted lower-than-expected fourth-quarter results and announced plans to cut production this year.

For the quarter ended Dec. 31, the Houston company posted a loss of $472 million, or $3.09 per share. That compared with a profit of $131.8 million, or 86 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter.

The recent quarter's results included a $496.5 million non-cash charge related to a drop in the value of the company's natural gas and crude oil properties stemming from the significant drop in natural gas prices. Excluding that and other one-time items, Ultra posted an adjusted profit of 51 cents per share.

Revenue fell 20 percent to $217.2 million from $270.8 million.

Analysts, on average, expected a profit of 52 cents per share on $262.6 million in revenue, according to FactSet.

Natural gas producers have struggled for much of the last year, hurt by low demand and a steep drop in natural gas prices.

Ultra said its natural gas volumes rose 5 percent, but its average selling price, including gains on commodity derivatives, dropped 21 percent to $4.01 per thousand cubic feet. Oil production fell 9 percent, but the company's average oil price rose 5 percent to $89.08 per barrel.

For the full year, Ultra posted a loss of $2.18 billion, or $14.24 per share, compared with a profit of $453.2 million, or $2.52 per share, in 2011. Revenue fell to $810 million from $1.1 billion.

The company said it expects its first-quarter production to total between 57.5 and 59.5 billion cubic feet. For all of 2013, the company projected production of between 228 and 238 billion cubic feet, down from 257 billion cubic feet in 2012.

Ultra shares fell 90 cents, or 5 percent, to $15.90 in heavy afternoon trading, after dropping as low as $15.31 earlier in the session and easily passing their previous 52-week low of $16.68. The drop marked the company's lowest share price since May 2004.