Royal Dutch Shell said net profit more than doubled in the first quarter, joining its peers in beating forecasts as rebounding oil prices and refining margins lifted revenue after a near three-year downturn. 

A 55% rise in oil prices from a year ago and deep cost cuts boosted cash generation, enabling the Anglo-Dutch company to cover spending and dividend payouts.

The company also managed to reduce its debt following its $54 billion acquisition of BG Group last year. 

Shell remains on track to hit its $30 billion asset disposal programme by 2018 to finance the BG acquisition, selling around $20 billion since 2016, including a large portfolio in the North Sea and exiting Canada's oil sands.

Europe's largest oil and gas company joined rivals BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Total in beating analysts' quarterly profit forecasts. 

It said it generated a cash flow of $9.5 billion in the quarter, up 13 fold from a year earlier, and the strongest among its peers. 

Free cash flow rose to $5.2 billion from a negative $16.26 billion a year earlier.

Net income attributable to shareholders in the quarter, based on a current cost of supplies (CCS) and excluding exceptional items rose 142% to $3.75 billion, compared with analysts' consensus forecasts of $3.05 billion. 

A year ago, net income attributable to shareholders was $1.55 billion. 

"We saw notable improvements in Upstream and Chemicals, which benefited from improved operational performance and better market conditions," Shell's chief executive Ben van Beurden said. 

Oil and gas production, known as upstream, rose 2% in the quarter to 3.752 million barrels of oil equivalent from 3.905 million boed in the fourth quarter of 2016 as a number of new fields continued to ramp up in Brazil and Kazakhstan in particular. 

Refining and marketing earnings also rose 20% to $2.49 billion. 

Refined oil products sales are expected to decrease by 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) in the second quarter of 2017 following the sale of refineries in Malaysia and Denmark and the splitting of the Motiva Enterprises joint venture with Saudi Aramco in the US, the company said. 

Shell's debt ratio versus company capitalisation, known as gearing, declined in the first quarter to 27.2% from 28% in the fourth quarter. 

The company stuck to plans to invest $25 billion this year, at the lower end of the long-term target.