Malaysian state oil and gas company Petroliam Nasional Bhd. said Thursday its first-quarter net profit rose 72.6% from a year earlier but warned the continuing dispute between North and South Sudan has disrupted production and could hurt its results in the coming quarters.

The company, also known as Petronas, is Malaysia's only Fortune 500 company and the country's most profitable firm.

Its net profit for the three months ended March 31 was MYR18.21 billion (US$5.74 billion), up from MYR10.55 billion a year earlier, boosted by higher margins and one-time gains from the sale of its stake in Centrica PLC (CNA.LN). Revenue rose 33.6% to MYR75.17 billion from MYR65.64 billion.

President Shamsul Azhar Abbas said at a news conference after the results were released that looking ahead toward the end of the year, "I do not see much improvement compared to the first quarter."

The company will likely face production challenges this year due to weak prices, he said, adding he expects oil prices to be capped at $80-$90 a barrel over the next four to five years as Europe's sovereign debt crisis and a weak U.S. economy weigh on demand.

"I'm very bearish about oil prices moving forward," he added.

Meanwhile, a dispute between North and South Sudan isn't likely to be resolved amicably this year, which will likely cut Petronas' net profit by MYR3.0 billion from the second quarter onward, Shamsul said.

The company's 20,000 barrels a day output in the North is still running, but its entire 135,000 barrels a day output in the South has been suspended, he said.

Petronas' total first-quarter production was 2.11 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, down from 2.19 million barrels a day a year earlier. Crude oil and condensates production fell to 773,000 barrels of oil equivalent from 872,000 barrels a year earlier, mainly due to natural field depletion, reservoir performance and operational challenges, the company said.

In June, Petronas said it was planning to spend MYR300 billion over five years to replace and refurbish production assets in Malaysia. The country has been facing a gas shortfall, which has hurt companies such as Tenaga Nasional Bhd. (5347.KU), a power-generating company that depends on Petronas for almost all of its gas requirements.

Shamsul said the company's exploration venture with Russian energy giant OAO Gazprom Neft (SIBN.RS) has just started drilling off the coast of Cuba, and the company expects to be able to report the results by the end of June.

Petronas owns 70% stake in the project while Gazprom owns the rest.

Copyright © 2012 Dow Jones Newswires


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