February 22, 2018 / 3:42 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-Hellenic Petroleum Q4 core profit drops; refining margins fall

* EBITDA, adjusted for oil inventory holdings, at 170 mln euros

* Figure within the range of analysts forecasts

* Will pay a dividend of 0.40 euros a share, for 2017 (Adds detail)

ATHENS, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Hellenic Petroleum, Greece’s biggest oil refiner, on Thursday reported a 21 percent drop in fourth-quarter core profit due to weaker refining margins.

The refiner said earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), adjusted for oil inventory holdings, came in at 170 million euros ($210 million), down from 215 million euros in the same period a year earlier.

The figure was within the range of analysts forecasts in a Reuters poll.

Weaker margins and increased oil prices, along with euro strength against the dollar, weighed on profits.

Hellenic, which exports about half of its output, will pay a dividend of 0.40 euro a share, up from 0.20 euro last year.

Refining sales volume increased by 7 percent to 4 million tonnes thanks to the smooth operation of refineries.

Hellenic is selling its 35 percent stake in gas grid operator DESFA and Greece is divesting another 31 percent from its holding under the country’s multibillion international bailout, which ends in August.

A consortium of Italy’s Snam, Spain’s Enagas Internacional and Belgium’s Fluxys, and a consortium of Spain’s Regasificadora del Noroeste (Reganosa), Romania’s Transgaz and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), submitted binding bids for the stake last week.

Hellenic said it expected the preferred bidder would be named by the end of the first quarter.

A joint venture of Hellenic with Total and Edison has signed a lease agreement with the government to search for oil and gas in the Ionian Sea. The refiner said it expected the Greek parliament would ratify the lease agreement in the next few days, so initial exploration works could start immediately after.

Its shares trade at 8.7-times its 12-month forward earnings, compared with 17 times for rivals Neste and 11 times for Saras. (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Mark Potter)

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