No. 3 U.S. oil company ConocoPhillips (COP) on Wednesday reported a 50 percent jump in quarterly profit to sail past Wall Street forecasts, propelled by soaring oil and gas prices.

The results capped the most profitable year in the company's history and extended its streak of beating analysts' estimates to a 12th straight quarter.

ConocoPhillips has record energy prices over the past few years to thank for much of its success. Crude oil prices rose about 40 percent last year because of hurricanes, lack of spare production capacity, and tensions in oil-producing countries like Iran and Venezuela.

ConocoPhillips, which last month agreed to buy natural gas producer Burlington Resources Inc. (BR) for $35 billion, reported fourth-quarter profit of $3.68 billion, or $2.61 a share, compared with $2.43 billion, or $1.72 a share, a year earlier.

Excluding discontinued operations, the company reported a profit of $2.69 a share, above analysts' consensus estimate of $2.65 a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

Total revenues in the quarter soared to $52.2 billion, from $40.1 billion a year earlier.

Analysts hailed the results as better than expected and an indication that strong results will continue this year.

"Bottom line: a decent result in a strong macro environment," said Credit Suisse analysts in a research note. "The overall results were helped by strong performances in midstream and chemicals."

MIXED RESULTS

Smaller U.S. oil producer and refiner Amerada Hess Corp. (AHC) also reported profit that blew past Wall Street forecasts, similarly benefiting from higher prices.

Much of its earnings boost versus expectations came from being able to book higher natural gas prices, which have fallen in recent weeks after soaring in the fourth quarter.

Its refining and marketing earnings also more than doubled on the back of higher margins.

Overall, Amerada said fourth quarter profit nearly doubled to $452 million, or $4.31 a share, compared with $229 million, or $2.22 a share, a year earlier. That was well above analysts' average forecast of a profit of $3.29 a share.

Another U.S. oil producer, Kerr-McGee Corp. (KMG), also posted higher profit on gains from asset sales, but fell far short of analysts' forecasts after excluding special items and discontinued operations.

Kerr-McGee posted adjusted after-tax income of $1.07 per share, excluding a raft of gains and charges for various items. Analysts polled by Reuters Estimates on average had expected earnings per share of $1.61.

CRUDE OIL DRAG

Shares of both ConocoPhillips and Kerr-McGee fell sharply, as crude oil prices dropped due to a larger than expected rise in U.S. gasoline and distillate inventories. Amerada shares rose.

ConocoPhillips shares were down 2 percent, or $1.29 a share, to $63.19 on the New York Stock Exchange in late afternoon trade, reversing gains earlier in the day. Kerr-McGee was down 3.3 percent or $3.50 to $101.52 and Amerada Hess was up 1.5 percent or $2.39 to $149.00.

Despite its bright earnings numbers, ConocoPhillips's production in the quarter was relatively flat with a year earlier at 1.88 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, including the share from its investment in Russian oil giant LUKOIL.

Still, profit at its exploration and production unit grew to $2.43 billion, from $1.67 billion a year earlier, boosted by higher prices, even if partly offset by accounting for some British natural gas contracts and higher exploration costs.

Earnings at its refining and marketing operations rose to $1.06 billion in the quarter from $753 million a year earlier, thanks to higher margins and better marketing results.