Norway's Equinor joined European peers in hiking shareholder payouts after posting record pretax profits for the fourth quarter due to a boom in oil and gas prices.
Adjusted earnings before tax rose to $15.0 billion in the October-December quarter from $756 million in the same period a year ago, exceeding the $13.2 billion predicted in a poll of 23 analysts compiled by Equinor.
CEO Anders Opedal said on Wednesday Equinor enjoyed a free cash flow of $25 billion last year as a result of "continued improvements and capital discipline".
"We are capturing value from high prices for gas and liquids with excellent performance and increased production," he said a in statement.
The oil and gas industry saw a massive turnaround last year as markets overcame the pandemic-driven slump of 2020, with the price of European natural gas quadrupling between January and December while North Sea crude rose more than 50%.
Majority state-owned Equinor said it would pay a quarterly dividend of $0.20 per share, up from $0.18 per share paid in the third quarter, and will pay an additional extraordinary dividend of $0.20 for a period of four quarters.
The company also plans to increase its share buybacks in 2022 to $5 billion from $1.3 billion in 2021, and up from the previous plan of $1.2 billion.
European oil industry peers have posted soaring profits in recent days, with BP promising to increase its share buybacks and Shell saying it will raise both dividends and its stock purchases.
Equinor's quarterly petroleum production stood at 2.16 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) in the fourth quarter, up 6% from the same period of 2020.
The company expects its oil and gas production to grow by 2% in 2022.
The company also said it would sharpen its climate ambitions for the next decade, reducing net group-wide greenhouse gas emissions from its operations - scope 1 and scope 2 emissions - by 50% by 2030.
The company was "aiming for 90% of this to be delivered as absolute reductions".
"The new ambition is aligned with the Paris agreement and a pathway to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. This is a significant step that will demand a great effort," Opedal said.
Equinor's shares have risen 63% in the last 12 months, more than double the rise in the European oil and gas index.
On Wednesday, Equinor also updated its outlook for capital spending, which is now expected to be at $10 billion in 2022, up from $9-10 billion seen previously. For 2023 capital spending was cut to $10 billion from $12 billion.
The company's capital spending will amount to $12 billion in 2024, in line with its previous forecast, and to stay at that level in 2025.
(Editing by Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche)