UPDATE 2-Refiner Valero posts smaller-than-expected loss, pins recovery hopes on vaccine rollout

(Compares with estimates; adds details from results, background)

Jan 28 (Reuters) - U.S. refiner Valero Energy Corp on Thursday posted a much smaller quarterly loss than Wall Street expected and pinned hopes on widespread COVID-19 vaccinations to ease travel restrictions and improve demand for fuel.

Crude prices have continued to climb after rallying more than 20% in the last quarter, driven by optimism over the development of coronavirus vaccines, even as refiners struggled with uneven demand due to renewed lockdown measures.

“We expect to see continued improvement in product demand with widespread vaccine distribution around the world,” Chief Executive Officer Joe Gorder said, adding that the company expects a faster recovery in margins from the shuttering of smaller, uncompetitive refineries.

Valero, the first U.S. refiner to post fourth-quarter results, said refining throughput, or the amount of crude it processed, rose about 1% to 2.6 million barrels per day from the third quarter.

Refining margin for the fourth quarter rose 14.2% to $1.09 billion from the third, although it was 64.1% lower than from a year earlier.

Adjusted net loss attributable to Valero stockholders narrowed to $429 million, or $1.06 per share, in the three months ended Dec. 31, from $472 million, or $1.16 per share, in the third quarter.

Wall Street analysts expected a loss of $1.42 per share, according to Refinitiv IBES.

The San Antonio, Texas-based company said quarterly revenue climbed 5% to $16.60 billion from the previous quarter, above analysts’ average estimate of $16.21 billion. (Reporting by Arunima Kumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.)