(Recasts, adds details, CEO comments, analysts comments, share movement)
By Ajay Kamalakaran
BANGALORE, April 23 (Reuters) - Natural gas explorer CNX Gas Corp CXG.N reported a 51 percent rise in quarterly profit that topped market expectations, helped by a rise in production and prices.
The company reported first-quarter net income of $49.9 million, or 33 cents a share, compared with $33 million, or 22 cents share, a year ago.
Total revenue rose to $160.5 million from $115.1 million a year earlier, the company, in which Consol Energy Inc (CNX.N) has an 82 percent stake, said.
Analysts expected the Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania-based company to earn 30 cents a share, before items, on revenue of $142.5 million, according to Reuters Estimates.
"We got off to a strong start for the year, with our three CBM (coal bed methane) development areas of Virginia , Mountaineer, and Nittany achieving production levels higher than plan," the company's Chief Executive Nicholas DeIuliss said in a statement.
CNX's first-quarter gas production rose more than 11 percent to 15.9 billion cubic feet (Bcf) from last year.
"Their production was higher than what we had been modelling... Partly it was because they had some production from Buchanan during the quarter and we were modelling no production from Buchanan," Pavel Molchanov, an analyst with Raymond James, said by phone.
"And then they also had (growth) in their developmental areas... It was a combination of earlier start up of the Buchanan production as well as more organic growth." Molchanov added.
For the quarter, the average price realized for the company's gas production increased to $8.23 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf), from $7.05 per Mcf received in the same quarter last year.
The gas producer reaffirmed its 2008 production outlook of 72 billion cubic feet, as it restarted longwall coal production at Consol's Buchanan Mine, which was shut in July 2007.
CNX shares, which are up almost 47 percent so far this year, fell 3 cents to $41.18 in morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange. (Editing by Anil D'Silva, Jarshad Kakkrakandy)