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The Husky Energy tower in Calgary.

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Husky Energy Inc. has reported higher profits for the fourth quarter due to stronger pricing than some of its peers for the oil it produces.

The Calgary-based energy company, controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing, said net earnings for the last three months of 2012 were $474-million, or 48 cents per share. During the same period a year earlier, Husky earned $408-million, or 42 cents per share.

Husky's adjusted net income, a better measure of its underlying performance, came in at 50 cents per share, missing the average analyst estimate by six cents, according to Thomson Reuters.

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Husky reported about $5.76-billion in revenue after royalties, up from the $5.56-billion it brought in a year earlier.

"Steady, consistent execution of the company's balanced growth strategy resulted in strong returns across the business," chief executive officer Asim Ghosh said in a news release on Wednesday.

Total production for the company during the quarter was more or less flat compared with a year earlier at 319,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

Husky's refinery interests helped to cushion the company against a steep discount in heavy oil prices, which have been the result of production growth outpacing the new pipeline space required to get it to market.

The lower crude prices hurt Husky's bottom line in its upstream business, which encompasses activities that involve drawing oil out of the ground.

However, that effect is offset in the downstream side of the business, which involves processing oil into fuel and selling it, because its refineries saved money by using less expensive feedstock.

Average realized crude oil pricing during the fourth quarter was $72.17 per barrel, much lower than the $89.79 it enjoyed during the same period last year. But realized U.S. refining margins were $16.24 (U.S.) per barrel, stronger than $14.80 a year earlier.

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"Increasing product and location differentials have had a significant impact on Western Canada pricing," chief financial officer Alister Cowan said. "However, our integrated downstream operations continue to give us the flexibility to capture world prices for our heavy, bitumen and light oil production."

Also Wednesday, Husky said its Liwan offshore natural gas project in the South China Sea is on track to start producing later this year or early next year. Oil from its steam-driven Sunrise oil sands project is expected next year.

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