(Adds details, background)
Jan 30 (Reuters) - Consol Energy Inc said it hired advisers to evaluate a master limited partnership structure for its thermal coal business, as it shifts focus to boosting natural gas production.
The company said it expected to invest $1 billion in its oil and natural gas business in 2015, compared with the $220 million in its coal business.
Consol said production in its natural gas business would likely grow by 30 percent this year.
The company also said an initial public offering of its metallurgical, or steel-making, coal business is likely in the fourth quarter.
Coal miners have been weighed down by a switch by U.S. utilities to cheaper natural gas from power-generating coal, and weaker demand from top consumer China for steel-making coal.
Consol’s coal business accounts for more than half of its total revenue.
Master Limited Partnership (MLPs) have become increasingly popular as they pay no taxes at the federal level and distribute most of their cash flows as dividends to investors.
Revenue rose 13 percent to $935.7 million in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, boosted by sales of oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids.
Net income from continuing operations halved to $73.7 million, or 32 cents per share.
Exploration and production costs rose nearly 24 percent to $294.3 million.
Consol reported an adjusted profit of 25 cents, 5 cents above the average analyst estimate, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Analysts had expected revenue of $956.1 million.
Up to Thursday’s close, Consol’s shares had fallen 22 percent in the last 12 months, compared to a nearly 40 percent drop in the broader Dow Jones U.S. Coal index. (Reporting by Narottam Medhora in Bengaluru; Editing by Don Sebastian and Sriraj Kalluvila)