Fourth quarter profits from British oil company BP beat analysts' expectations today thanks to a record performance from its refining division. 

BP is the last of the big four western world oil companies to report quarterly earnings.

It said fourth quarter net profit, adjusted for non-operating items and accounting effects, fell to $3.984 billion from $4.986 billion a year earlier.

This was mainly as a result of asset sales to pay for its spill liabilities.

Analysts had expected a quarterly profit of $3.305 billion, although they warned the result was hard to predict given the changing nature of BP.

The company has sold $37.8 billion worth of assets since the Macondo spill and taken a total charge against profits of $42.2 billion - most of which has already been paid out.

More billions could flow out of the business this year either via a settlement with US authorities and/or as a result of a civil penalties trial that is due to begin on February 25.

BP said it expects four new major upstream projects to begin production by the end of 2013 - Angola LNG, North Rankin 2 in Australia, Na Kika 3 in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Chirag Oil project in Azerbaijan.

A further six major projects are expected to come onstream through 2014. In addition, the major upgrade of the Whiting refinery in Indiana is expected to come online in the second half of 2013, BP said.

Like its sector peers, BP is facing rising costs and is spending fast to keep production growing. It said organic capital expenditure would be $24-$25 billion in 2013, up from $23 billion in 2012.