Oil giant Shell yesterday said it was banking £1.5 million an hour in profits, as it almost bettered its record 2004 haul in the space of just nine months.
Surging oil prices helped to generate profits of $17.55 billion (£9.86 billion) for Shell between January and September - compared with $17.6 billion (£9.88 billion) in the whole of 2004.
This performance was also spurred by one-off gains on the sale of assets and was in spite of lost production and damage to rigs from the summer of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.
Shell said yesterday that production in 2005 would be about 3.5 million barrels of oil a day, which is at the bottom end of its target laid out earlier this year.
The cost of repairing hurricane damage to rigs and refineries would be approximately $ 350 million (£196.5 million) after tax, although Shell said much of this should be covered by insurance.
Quarterly profits of $7.37 billion (£4.13 billion) for Shell are higher than the $4.4 billion (£2.48 billion) reported by rival BP earlier this week.
The figure for the third quarter includes an exceptional gain of $1.77 billion (£992 million), mainly from the sale of pipelines assets held by a Dutch company and the valuation of some UK gas contracts.
It means Shell has now achieved its target of selling between $12 billion and $15 billion of assets this year ahead of schedule.
Chief executive Jeroen van der Veer said: "Our operational performance is paying off with good results."
Even if production had not been disrupted by the hurricanes, Shell conceded that it would have failed to match its output for last year.
Shell said production would have been four per cent lower over summer as new volumes were more than offset by fields yielding less oil and gas and North Sea rigs being shut down for maintenance.
Although daily output of 3.21 million barrels was behind last year, Shell said higher oil and gas prices meant earnings from its exploration and production division more than doubled to $4.98 billion (£2.79 billion) in the third quarter.
The cost of a barrel of US light crude hit an all-time high of $70.85 in August as Hurricane Katrina blazed a trail of destruction through the Gulf of Mexico and on the southern coast of the US.
This forced retailers to push pump prices for unleaded above £1 a litre, although Shell said this had not helped boost profits as margins at its filling stations in Europe and Asia Pacific were weaker than a year ago.
Shell added yesterday that its production in the Gulf was still less than half the levels before the hurricane struck and its Mars platform was unlikely to become fully operational again until after June next year.
Investec analyst Jonathan Copus said Shell's profits were 10 per cent ahead of consensus expectations after the exceptional gains on disposals were eliminated from the figures.
Tony Shepard, an analyst at broker Charles Stanley, noted the huge sum that Shell had raised from disposals so far this year and that the company had no plans to return the cash to shareholders set out in the results statement.
This invited speculation that the company was gearing up for an acquisition next year, he said.