* Net profit 56.3 bln rupees, refining margin falls to $9.30
* Retail business posts first ever profit in turnaround (Adds details on production, retail and telecom businesses)
By Aradhana Aravindan and Sumeet Chatterjee
MUMBAI, April 18 (Reuters) - Indian energy company Reliance Industries Ltd posted nearly flat fourth-quarter profits, in line with estimates, as a slimmer margin in its oil refining business offset higher revenue.
Reliance, which operates the world’s biggest refining complex in western India, reported net profit of 56.31 billion rupees for the quarter to end-March, compared with analysts’ expectations of 56.62 billion rupees.
Its average gross refining margin dropped to $9.30 per barrel from $10.10 a year earlier, although it was up from the preceding quarter’s $7.60. Net sales rose 13 percent.
Investors have focussed, however, on the oil and gas production business at Reliance, India’s second most valuable company which is controlled by its richest man, Mukesh Ambani.
The upstream business, which is small relative to refining, has several concessions including the Krishna Godavari D6 block off India’s east cost.
Gas output from the block has fallen sharply since 2010. The company says the decline is due to the geological complexity of the block, while the government says contractors have failed to drill the promised number of wells.
The block, in which BP Plc has a 30 percent stake and Canada’s Niko Resources 10 percent, currently produces about 13 million cubic metres of gas per day, a government source said last month.
Reliance has said further investment at the field to reverse falling output would require a rise in domestic gas prices.
A formula that would have nearly doubled prices from April 1 was approved by the cabinet, but the Election Commission last month asked the government to defer the increase until the end of the five-week general election in the middle of May.
India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which surveys show is on course to become the largest parliamentary party, has said it will review the gas pricing formula if it is elected.
Reliance also has interests in areas including retail and telecommunications. Its retail business, which started at end-2006, posted its first ever annual profits before depreciation, interest and tax at 3.63 billion rupees.
“The retail business has turned around and is now India’s largest retail chain,” Chairman Mukesh Ambani said.
The group expects a compounded annual growth rate of 25 to 30 percent for its retail business in the next two to three years, TV channel ET Now cited the company as saying.
Reliance has spent billions of dollars on a 4G mobile telecoms venture, which has yet to be launched. It said it had accelerated efforts to roll out 4G services.
The company aims to capture a big share of the fledgling but growing wireless data market by offering low-cost services. It recently added airwaves that would help it offer bread-and-butter voice telephony along with premium high-speed Internet services. (Additional reporting by Nandita Bose; editing by Jane Baird)