Total, the French oil and gas group, said it will raise shareholder returns over the next three years after announcing a 19 per cent jump in fourth-quarter earnings helped by higher oil prices, increased production and lower costs.

Adjusted net profits were $2.9bn in the final three months of last year, compared with $2.4bn in the same period of 2016.

The results added to the surge in profitability reported by several large oil and gas groups over the past week as the industry benefits from a recovery in crude prices coupled with cost savings made during the deep downturn of the past three years.

Total increased its full-year dividend by 1.2 per cent to €2.48 and said there would be further gains ahead for shareholders.

“After a period of heavy investment, the group’s cash flow generation is growing strongly, driven by an increase in production that is at the best level among the [oil] majors,” Total said in a statement on Thursday. “In this context, the board of directors is proposing a shareholder return policy for the coming three years comprised of dividend increases and share buybacks.”

Over the full-year, Total’s adjusted net profits, excluding one-off items, were up 28 per cent at $10.6bn, slightly ahead of analysts’ consensus forecast for $10.5bn, according to estimates collected by Thomson Reuters.

Operating cash flow, excluding working capital changes, was up 25 per cent at $6bn during the quarter and $21.1bn over the full-year.

Production averaged 2.57m barrels per day in 2017, 4.6 per cent higher than the year before, reflecting new output from the Republic of Congo, the ramp-up of operations in the giant Kashagan field in Kazakhstan, and entry into the Al-Shaheen oilfield in Qatar.

Oil prices averaged $54 per barrel in 2017, up 18.5 per cent from 2016, and the recovery has continued this year with Brent crude, the international benchmark hitting three-year highs above $70 per barrel last month before falling back to around $67 in recent days.

Despite rising prices, Patrick Pouyanne, chief executive, said fiscal discipline was being maintained. Cost savings since 2014 reached $3.7bn in 2017, ahead of target, and production costs fell to $5.40 per barrel from $9.90 three years ago.

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