(Adds CEO quote, production, export trends,)
By Peter Murphy
BOGOTA, May 12 (Reuters) - Net profit at Colombia's state-controlled oil producer Ecopetrol tumbled 96 percent in the first quarter from the same period last year, largely due to the sharp drop in crude oil prices since the middle of last year.
The company posted a consolidated net profit of 160 billion Colombian pesos ($67.2 million) in the quarter, compared with 3.88 trillion pesos in the same period a year earlier.
Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, EBITDA or cash flow, fell 60 percent to 3.15 trillion pesos in the first quarter versus 7.86 trillion pesos in the same period of 2014.
The company's consolidated oil and gas production, which includes subsidiaries, rose 1 percent from the first quarter last year to 773,400 barrels per day equivalent. The non-consolidated figure for Ecopetrol alone was 722,000 barrels.
"The trend (in oil prices) substantially affected the group's revenue," said Juan Carlos Echeverry, who became the company's CEO in early April.
He said financial results were starting to improve although they remain far below those of a year ago when oil prices were above $100 per barrel compared with about $61 now. The company made a loss of 844 billion pesos in the last quarter of 2014.
"The group's financial and operational results in the first quarter beat those of the fourth quarter of 2014 and March in particular was the best month of the first quarter," he said.
Ecopetrol is the largest producer in Colombia's million barrel-per-day oil sector followed by Toronto-listed Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp, the biggest private player.
Bogota-traded Ecopetrol shares, which have roughly halved in value since late 2013, closed unchanged on Monday at 1,900 pesos per share.
Ecopetrol said its latest results and comparative year-ago figures were prepared according to newly adopted NIIF international accounting standards, meaning figures reported for the first quarter of 2014 have now changed.
An increase in the competitiveness of Colombian crude caused United States refiners to import more in the first quarter as their refining margins increased while exports to Asia slipped due to stiffer competition from the Middle East and Africa.
Crude oil production was boosted by new wells brought online at the key Castilla and Chichimene fields where output rose to 124,000 and 85,000 barrels per day, respectively.
$1 = 2,382.5000 Colombian pesos Reporting by Peter Murphy; Editing by Ken Wills