NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Chevron Corp (CVX.N), the second-largest U.S. oil company, reported a larger-than-expected 36 percent rise in earnings on Friday, as oil prices surged and refining improved along with global fuel demand.
Oil company profits have been boosted by the jump in crude prices above $100 per barrel last quarter because of a growing need for energy worldwide as well as unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.
Chevron's first-quarter profit rose to $6.2 billion, or $3.09 per share, from $4.6 billion, or $2.27 per share, a year earlier. That topped analysts' average estimate of $3.00 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue rose 23 percent to $58 billion.
That was despite a slip in oil and gas output of nearly 1 percent to 2.76 million barrels of oil equivalent per day.
Still, earnings from the upstream, or exploration and production, arm rose to $5.98 billion in the quarter on strong energy prices.
Gary Luquette, head of the North American upstream division, said Chevron is moving ahead with its original plans to drill development wells at Jack/St. Malo in the Gulf of Mexico, where its production schedule generally is unchanged.
"Should permitting delays persist further into the year, the number of wells available at start-up could be impacted," Luquette told analysts on a conference call. "But we remain committed to previously communicated first oil dates."
Chevron also benefited from strong demand for products such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, which helped lift profits at its refineries more than threefold from a year ago to $622 million.
The San Ramon, California-based Chevron said earlier this month that rising demand had boosted its first-quarter refining margins, despite the rise in oil prices.
Earlier on Friday, France's Total (TOTF.PA) said profit rose 35 percent, a day after it announced it would take a majority stake in U.S. solar power company SunPower Corp. SPWRA.O
Chevron shares were up 0.6 percent at $109.42 in midday trading. The stock has gained 19 percent since the start of 2011, in line with Exxon shares.
Reporting by Matt Daily in New York and Braden Reddall in San Francisco, editing by Gerald E. McCormick, John Wallace and Matthew Lewis