BOGOTA, May 12 (Reuters) - Colombian state oil company Ecopetrol said on Friday it will focus its efforts over the next 18 months on purchasing light crude projects in other Latin American nations, taking advantage of nearly $6 billion in cash it held at the end of the first quarter.
Ecopetrol more than doubled its net income between January and March to 886 billion pesos ($300.4 million) versus the same period last year, bolstered by better crude prices and higher operating efficiencies, the company said.
"Our idea is to look for reserves of light crude outside Colombia," Ecopetrol Chief Executive Officer Juan Carlos Echeverry told investors during a conference call. "We're in no rush but it could be something that happens over the next 18 months."
The company has already met with banks that have shown available projects in the region, he said.
"We want purchases to generate a better balance in our crude portfolio," he said.
About 82 percent of Ecopetrol's production portfolio is concentrated in crude - mostly heavy - while the remaining 18 percent is gas.
The company closed the quarter with cash of 17.5 trillion pesos ($6 billion).
"The group maintains a strong cash position...which includes cash and cash equivalents of 8.2 trillion pesos, short-term investments of less than one year worth 7 trillion pesos and investments for more than one year of 2.3 trillion pesos," said Maria Fernanda Suarez, Ecopetrol's vice president of strategy and finance.
Even while Ecopetrol booked a profit, production fell 3.3 percent in the first quarter to 712,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day. The company attributed the decline to operational difficulties caused by attacks by the rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), against the Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline. (Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Writing by Helen Murphy; Editing by Marguerita Choy)