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UPDATE 1-Malaysia's Petronas posts 61 pct growth in quarterly profit

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(Adds CEO comments, background) KUALA LUMPUR, March 2 (Reuters) - Malaysian state energy firm Petroliam Nasional Berhad , or Petronas, posted a 61 percent jump in quarterly profit on Friday and pledged to boost its dividend payout and capital spending this year. Petronas, like other oil majors, had taken a hit from lower oil prices, but sharp cost cuts - along with some recent stability in oil prices - helped the company post higher profits and margins. Net profit for the fourth quarter ended December rose to 18.2 billion ringgit ($4.65 billion) from 11.3 billion ringgit in the same quarter last year, while revenue rose 13.8 percent to 61.8 billion ringgit.

The quarterly result helped push full-year profit up 91 percent to 45.5 billion ringgit - marking a second year of profit growth for the sole manager of Malaysia's oil and gas reserves following a two-year profit slump. "Petronas is now in stronger position to execute its long term growth agenda," Chief Executive Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin said. "Petronas will explore new business areas, including speciality chemicals and new energy." Petronas will focus on the ASEAN region, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and the Americas for growth, he said, adding that the company will assess opportunities in solar energy. Wan Zulkiflee said the company will continue its focus on costs. Petronas, a major contributor to Malaysia's budget and one of the country's biggest employers, said in 2016 that it would reduce expenses by $12 billion over a four-year period and cut thousands of jobs. The company, known to be conservative with its outlook, said its performance in 2018 will be "satisfactory" subject to sustainability of the oil price. It is budgeting for an oil price of $52 per barrel in 2018. Wan Zulkiflee said Petronas is committed to pay a dividend of 19 billion ringgit to its sole shareholder, the Malaysian government, this year compared with 16 billion ringgit last year. It also plans capital expenditure of around 55 billion ringgit, higher than last year's 44.5 billion ringgit.

($1 = 3.9140 ringgit) (Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Emily Chow; editing by Richard Pullin)

Messaging: ananthalakshmi.as.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net; Twitter: @AnanthalakshmiA))
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