Norwegian state oil group Statoil reported surprisingly strong quarterly profits on robust production figures even though net profit fell slightly.

Net profit for the first quarter of the year was 15.1 billion kroner (€2 billion).

This was a fall of 5.4% from the figure of 16 billion kroner at the same time last year.

The fall reflected a boost to the figures last year from a capital gain, and an increased tax charge this year.

Gross operating profit after adjustments rose sharply to 59.2 billion kroner from 47.2 billion kroner, well above 53.5 billion kroner expected on average by analysts.

Sales also rose strongly to 195.4 billion kroner from 151.9 billion kroner. The group produced 2.193 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, an increase of 11.3%, and has a target of exceeding 2.5 million barrels in 2020.

Statoil has just signed an ambitious cooperation agreement with the leading Russian oil group Rosneft to gain access to vast areas of Russian off-shore waters of the Barents Sea in the Arctic region, and in the Far East.