Colombia's Ecopetrol net profit rises sharply in 2017

BOGOTA, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Ecopetrol, Colombia's state-run oil company, said on Tuesday its net profit during 2017 rose to 6.6 trillion pesos ($2.32 billion), its highest reported earnings in four years and more than four times its profit in 2016.

Year-on-year profit increased 323 percent over 2016, when the company was hammered by the global fall in oil prices.

"2017 was a year of great operational and financial achievements for Ecopetrol," Chief Executive Felipe Bayon said in a statement to the country's financial regulator.

"Today we are a more efficient and disciplined company, and we've demonstrated our technical capacity and resilience, having come out stronger after the crisis of low oil prices," Bayon said.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization were up 28 percent last year compared with 2016, to 23 trillion pesos, the company said in a filing to the country's financial regulator, and proven reserves were up to 1.65 billion barrels, the company said.

Debt was down by approximately 9 trillion pesos between 2016 and 2017, Ecopetrol said, while total sales were up 15.7 percent to 55.2 trillion pesos, compared with 47.7 trillion in 2016.

Shareholders will receive dividends of 89 pesos per share, the company said. Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas said on Twitter the government would make 3.2 trillion pesos from the dividend.

The company said it met its production goal for 2017, reaching 715,000 barrels per day (bpd) despite ongoing attacks against crude pipelines by leftist rebels. Ecopetrol plans to increase output to between 715,000 and 725,000 bpd in 2018.

The company has said it will invest between $3.5 billion and $4 billion during 2018, largely in production and exploration projects.

Fourth-quarter profit was 3.42 trillion pesos, up 1,742.5 percent from 186 billion pesos in the same quarter of 2016, the statement said.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization was up 29.1 percent in the final quarter of 2017, compared with the same period the year before, to 5.77 trillion pesos. ($1 = 2,849.91 Colombian pesos) (Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Matthew Lewis)