* Average mkt forecast $1.2 bln loss - Reuters poll
* 2008 net profit was $9.1 billion
* Free cash flow doubled in 2008
(Adds conference calls, analyst)
MOSCOW, April 7 Russian oil producer LUKOIL (LKOH.MM) reported on Tuesday fourth-quarter 2008 net loss of $1.6 billion, its first loss in at least a decade, citing falling oil prices, a weaker rouble and high export duty.
A Reuters poll of 12 analysts gave an average forecast of a $1.2 billion net loss [ID:nL3292714].
"A slump in hydrocarbon prices in the fourth quarter of 2008 along with a loss resulting from the rouble devaluation, and high level of export duties rates in the beginning of the quarter led to a quarterly loss of $1.6 billion," LUKOIL said.
LUKOIL issued a warning late last month that it would report $2 billion in foreign exchange losses and writedowns on assets and oil [ID:nLR126146].
LUKOIL shares closed 2.5 percent up, outperforming the market , as traders said bad results have been already priced in since the profit warning. Analysts said they were disappointed by rising costs.
"Sales came in higher than expected while profits were lower. It means costs are rising," said Konstantin Cherepanov, an analyst from KIT Finance.
The company, which is Russia's largest private oil firm, said sales stood at $18.4 billion on the fourth quarter, against expectations of $17.28 billion.
For the full-year 2008 it reported revenue of $107.7 billion, roughly in line with forecasts, and a net profit of $9.1 billion. Revenue in 2007 was reported at $81.9 billion.
The company said free cash flow doubled in 2008 to $3.78 billion. EBITDA was negative at minus $1.1 billion in the fourth quarter, against expectations of $330 million.
Fourth quarter operating expenses were up 32 percent year on year at $2.2 billion.
Lifting costs were up 11 percent year on year, though the company said the devaluation of the rouble had helped bring them down in cost-per-barrel terms in the fourth quarter, from the third quarter.
Costs of refining at third party refineries were the fastest growing operating expense, rising 95 percent year on year to $142 million.
LUKOIL's top rival, Russia's largest oil producer, state-controlled Rosneft managed to report a $775 million profit for the fourth quarter.
The company said during a conference call it was further cutting its capex estimate for 2009 to $6.5 billion, from $8.3 billion. In 2008, LUKOIL's capex was more than $10 billion.
It said it would stick to its dividend policies and still expected to push oil output up 1.5 percent this year. (Reporting by Gleb Bryanski and Melissa Akin; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Andrew Macdonald)