(Compares with estimates, background)
Feb 13 (Reuters) - Canada's First Quantum Minerals Ltd posted a surprise profit on Thursday, helped by higher sales and production, driven by a ramp up of its Cobre Panama copper mine.
First Quantum's total copper production rose 29% to 204,270 tonnes, while sales jumped 31.8%.
The company has been actively developing its Cobre Panama project, which started commercial production last September, with its final mill becoming operational in mid-December. Cobre is among Panama's largest copper mines.
First Quantum last month strengthened its defense against a hostile takeover after China's Jiangxi Copper Co Ltd became the miner's largest shareholder with an 18% stake. The move followed talks between the companies for a potential sale of a minority interest in First Quantum's Zambian assets.
The miner, which is scouting for strategic partners to develop new copper projects, has said it may team-up with Rio Tinto, to develop its Peru copper mine. First Quantum owns the Haquira deposit in the South American country, while Rio owns the La Granja porphyry copper project.
First Quantum's average copper price realization fell 7.4% to $2.62 per pound in the fourth quarter, as the metal's demand fell, especially from top consumer China due to a prolonged Sino-U.S. trade war.
Excluding items, the company earned 5 cents per share, while analysts had estimated a loss of 2 cents per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
Reporting by Jeff Lewis & Arundhati Sarkar in Bengaluru; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi