March 6, 2017 / 12:13 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 2-Colombia's Ecopetrol reports $525.6 mln profit in 2016

BOGOTA, March 6 (Reuters) - Colombia’s state-controlled oil producer Ecopetrol on Monday reported net income of 1.56 trillion pesos ($525.6 million) for 2016, as it cut costs amid still-low global prices for crude oil.

The company said in a filing to the financial regulator that it returned to profit after a 3.98 trillion peso loss in 2015.

“Ecopetrol focused its efforts on reducing costs, producing profitable barrels, prioritizing investments, strengthening assets and at the same time maintaining its credit rating,” Chief Executive Juan Carlos Echeverry said in the statement.

The company invested a total of $2.5 billion in 2016, the statement said, and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization were up 3 percent over 2015 to 18 trillion pesos.

In 2017 the company will focus on opening 17 new wells and increasing its proven reserves, Echeverry said during a Monday conference call with investors.

Echeverry also said Ecopetrol may be in the market for new investments, saying current cash flow will allow the company to examine growth opportunities across the region.

Net profit in the fourth quarter of last year was 186 billion pesos, the company said, compared with a net loss of 6.31 trillion in the final quarter of 2015.

Total sales at the company, Colombia’s largest, were down 8.4 percent compared with 2015, to 47.7 trillion pesos.

Consolidated oil and gas production during 2016 was 718,000 barrels per day, Ecopetrol said, a 5.6 percent decrease from the year before, due to a decline in production at some fields and a fall in investment.

Analysts said the 2016 results were positive despite the fall in reserves.

The company “managed to largely maintain the efficiencies obtained due to the fall in crude oil prices which will allow Ecopetrol to report better margins as long as oil prices don’t present new negative variations,” Grupo Bancolombia said in a note to investors.

An Ecopetrol official told Reuters last week that the company’s refining business is emerging as an engine of revenue growth, with higher margins of production and earnings.

$1 = 2,977.43 Colombian pesos Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Nelson Bocanegra; Editing by Helen Murphy and Bill Trott

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