UPDATE 2-Hess Corp posts smaller quarterly loss on fuel demand recovery

(Adds estimates, analyst comment, background)

Jan 27 (Reuters) - Hess Corp reported a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss on Wednesday, as the U.S. oil and gas producer kept a tight lid on costs and helped by higher gas prices and a recovery in crude demand from the hit caused by the coronavirus.

Easing of COVID-19 related restrictions has propelled oil demand and prices, which remain stable since a late-2020 rebound from historic lows. Brent crude, which averaged at $45 per barrel in the last quarter of 2020, rose above $56 on Wednesday.

Despite the rise in crude prices, oil producers have so far largely refused to raise production too quickly, aiding prices for natural gas - largely a byproduct of oil drilling.

Hess’ realized crude oil selling price, including hedges, of $45.32 per barrel in the fourth quarter was slightly lower than the third, but its selling prices for natural gas and natural gas liquids improved by double digit percentages.

The company’s total production of 309,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) was 3.7% below the third quarter but beat estimates of 302,000 boepd, according to Credit Suisse analysts.

“Hess printed a better quarter than what the Street expected, both on production and realizations after hedging,” said Ethan Bellamy, managing director of midstream strategy at East Daley Capital Advisors.

“It’s a positive sign for HES shares as their risk management program really paid off this quarter, more so than what the Street anticipated,” he added.

Hess earlier this week forecast net production, excluding Libya, of 310,000 boepd for this year, a dip of 5% compared with 2020 estimate, partly hit by turnaround activity at the Tioga Gas Plant in the Bakken region.

On an adjusted basis, the company posted a loss of 58 cents per share in the fourth quarter, smaller than analysts’ average expectation of a loss of 66 cents per share, according to Refinitiv IBES data. (Reporting by Rithika Krishna; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)