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Statoil added to the signs of recovery for oil majors as the Norwegian group reported a near-quadrupling of profits, beating market expectations.

The Norwegian government-controlled oil and gas group reported underlying operating profits of $3.3bn in the first quarter compared with $857m a year earlier. This beat the average analyst forecast of $2.7bn.

Statoil has been helped, like the other majors that have reported including BP and ExxonMobil, by the rise in oil prices from the 12-year lows recorded at the start of 2016. The Norwegian group was also helped by increased output, including the highest production from its home market in five years.

It is heading back to the Norwegian Arctic this year to drill exploration wells in the Barents Sea for the first time in three years as activity there hits a record amid optimism it could be Norway’s next big oil frontier.

Eldar Saetre, Statoil’s chief executive, told investors two months ago he was the most optimistic he had ever been about investment opportunities in his 36 years at the company.

On Thursday, Mr Saetre said:

Our solid financial result and strong cash flow across all segments was driven by higher prices, good operational performance and an organic production growth of 5 per cent. Our production from the Norwegian Continental Shelf was at its highest level in five years, driven by high regularity and ramp-up of new fields. Our international portfolio delivered positive results and cash flow per barrel after tax on par with our Norwegian portfolio. We continue to capture efficiency gains and are on track to deliver an additional billion dollars in annual improvements in 2017.

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