Total net profit up 9 percent, output increases

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French oil giant Total said Friday its first quarter net profit rose nine percent from a year earlier to 2.3 billion euros (3.06 billion dollars), benefiting from higher energy prices.

Sales in the three months to March jumped 25 percent to 37.6 billion euros as oil prices soared 76 percent compared with the same period in 2009.

Total, France's biggest company, said its oil and gas output in the period rose 4.5 percent, "one of the best performances" among the major oil groups.

But Total shares fell 1.9 percent to 41.33 euros in early Paris trading as the profit performance fell just short of expectations.

Analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires put net profit in the period at 2.34 billion euros.

Total attributed the 9.0 percent gain to a 76 percent rise in oil prices, compared with the first quarter 2009, to an average 76.4 dollars per barrel.

Total chief executive Christophe de Margerie said the company was "confident about the rest of 2010," when production should continue to increase.

But he also warned of persistent "difficult" conditions in the refining sector. Total's refinery operating result fell 74 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier to 155 million euros.

While the company's refining margins have nearly tripled since the end of last year, they remain three .0 percent below those of first quarter 2009.

Total, which has halted refining operations at a plant in Dunkerque, northern France, will "adapt, in a responsible manner, to a more competitive environment and to a structural drop in demand" for refined products in major industrialised countries, de Margerie said.

© 2010 AFP

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