UPDATE 2-Pioneer Natural Resources beats on fourth-quarter profit

(Adds detail on production impacts, CEO comment, share price)

Feb 23 (Reuters) - U.S. shale producer Pioneer Natural Resources on Tuesday reported a better-than-expected gain of $177 million for the fourth quarter as crude oil prices recovered from pandemic-driven lows.

The recent winter storm in Texas will cut the company’s production by about 30,000 to 55,000 barrels of oil and gas per day this quarter, the company said when it reported financial results after market close.

Texas was hit by freezing temperatures and record snow falls last week, and much of the Permian Basin, the top U.S. oil field where Pioneer operates, lost electricity during blackouts alongside the rest of the state, shutting in wells.

Pioneer’s 2021 production is likely to be around 528,000 to 554,000 barrels of oil and gas per day, including a winter storm impact of 8,000 to 14,000 barrels daily, the company said.

The shale producer expects $2 billion in free cash flow this year and will start paying a variable dividend in 2022, “augmenting our stable and growing base dividend,” Chief Executive Scott Sheffield said.

Pioneer reported earnings of $1.07 per share, while analysts expected earnings of 68 cents per share, excluding one-time items, according to Refinitiv estimates. The company reported adjusted earnings of $2.36 per share for the fourth quarter of 2019.

Shares dipped 1% after hours to $143.85.

The company had fourth quarter net income of $43 million, or 26 cents per share, down from $344 million, or $2.06 per share the year prior.

Executives will hold an analyst call on Wednesday. (Reporting by Jennifer Hiller Editing by Marguerita Choy and Richard Pullin)