Feb 6 (Reuters) - Oil and natural gas producer Noble Energy Inc posted lower-than-expected profit on Thursday due to a spike in exploration, transportation and other costs.
For the fourth quarter, the company recorded net income of $134 million, or 37 cents per share, compared with $251 million, or 70 cents per share, in the year-ago period.
Excluding hedging losses and other one-time items, the company earned 50 cents per share.
By that measure, analysts expected earnings of 60 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Sales volumes rose 16 percent to 293,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d), exceeding the company's previously announced forecast for the quarter.
Operating expenses, including the cost to find, transport and store oil and natural gas, jumped 22 percent to $980 million from the same quarter in 2012.
The increase was starkest in exploration expenses, which more than doubled. Like many peers, Noble has been aggressively spending to find and develop new energy fields around the world.
Noble has identified giant natural gas fields off the coast of Israel as one of its most promising developments, but the cost to develop it and other areas will be high.
For the first quarter, Noble expects to produce 280,000 to 288,000 boe/d. The midpoint of that range is 18 percent higher than a year ago.
Noble's stock fell 0.3 percent to $61 in premarket trading on Thursday. The stock has fallen roughly 6 percent in the past six months.
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