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OSLO, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Norway's Yara posted a fourth-quarter operating profit up more than fourfold on Wednesday, allowing the world's biggest nitrogen-based fertiliser maker to raise its dividend.
Yara, which operates in around a 150 countries and has pushed into South America in recent years, said it benefited from solid demand, lower raw materials costs, a weaker Norwegian crown and a stronger dollar.
With production still curtailed in places such as Ukraine, China and Egypt, fertiliser prices are holding up while the price of natural gas, the chief raw material in its manufacture, is falling, Yara said.
"Furthermore, the recent strengthening of the U.S. dollar has improved the competitiveness of farmers in key producing regions like Europe and Brazil," Yara said in a statement.
Operating profit surged to 2.69 billion Norwegian crowns ($354 million) from 583 million a year earlier and beating expectations for 2.36 billion.
Its proposed dividend of 13 crowns per share is also above market expectations for 11.3 crowns.
Still, analysts said much of Yara's big profit gain is unlikely to be repeated and its earnings are set for only a modest rise this year as fertiliser prices are expected to flatten as some capacity returns to the market.
The biggest risk factor will be Chinese supplies, which tend to vary sharply due to local regulations and have surged in recent months, keeping global prices under pressure, analysts said.
The stock's upside is also limited as Yara has outperformed most peers over the past three months, rising 25 percent or almost three times as fast as the global agricultural chemicals index, analysts said. (Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; editing by Terje Solsvik and Jason Neely)