Royal Dutch Shell beat forecasts with an 11 per cent rise in fourth-quarter profit, as higher oil prices outweighed the impact of lower US petrol prices.

Europe's largest oil company by market capitalisation said today its current cost of supply (CCS) net income was $US7.70 billion. Excluding one-offs, the result was $US7.27 billion, compared with a forecast for $US6.70 billion in a company poll of analysts.

Shell lifted its target for assets sales in 2012 to $US4 billion from $US2-3 billion, echoing an industry trend of companies trying to churn their portfolios more regularly.

By jettisoning mature assets earlier in their life cycle, companies hope to focus reserves on higher growth activities.

Production was up 1.4 per cent in the quarter compared to the same period a year earlier at 3.55 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, with the ramp-up of new projects being off-set by asset sales.

Shell's refining division produced a weaker underlying result despite some improvement in industry refining margins.

Chief executive Peter Voser said he expected weakness in the division to continue, and for low US natural gas prices to continue to eat into profit.

"In downstream and North American natural gas we see continued challenges for our industry," he said.

Brent crude prices averaged $US118.60 per barrel last quarter, up from $US105.43 a year before.

CCS earnings strip out unrealised gains or losses related to changes in the value of inventories, and as such are comparable with net income under US accounting rules.

Reuters