Eni SpA first-quarter profit beat analyst estimates as improved performance at its refining and gas businesses and a lower tax rate helped Italy’s largest oil company offset lower crude prices.

Adjusted net income for the first quarter declined 46 percent to 648 million euros ($711 million), the Rome-based company said on Wednesday in a statement. That beat the 446 million euro average estimate of 15 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Production rose 7.2 percent to the equivalent of 1.7 million barrels of oil per day.

“Upstream production is increasing and development plans supporting 2015-2016 production growth are in line with our forecasts,” Eni Chief Executive Officer Claudio Descalzi said in the statement. The company had to “cope with a difficult trading environment caused by the steep drop in the Brent oil price,” he said.

Oil company earnings have suffered as booming production from U.S. shale fields and a slowdown in the world economy caused a sharp fall in the cost of oil. In March, Eni became the first major oil company to cut its dividend to cope with lower crude prices.

Eni reported a 72 percent decline in operating profit in its exploration and production division in the quarter.
The gas and power division increased its adjusted operating income to 294 million euros in the first quarter from 242 million euros, while the refining and marketing business posted an adjusted operating profit of 121 million euros over the same period, recovering from a 313 million euro loss a year ago.

Eni said gas sales are seen to be stable, compared with last year and forecast an increase in refining volumes.
Production is seen increasing from 2014 helped by new fields start-ups and ramp-ups mainly in Angola, Congo, Egypt, Venezuela, Norway and the U.S. Eni also said it expects higher volumes in Libya.

Source: Bloomberg