By Jonathan Davies

Royal Dutch Shell has beaten its profit expectations despite a 56% fall.

The oil giant said that greater profit margins in its refinery business helped to counter falling oil prices.

Underlying profits were down by more than half to $3.2bn (£2.1bn) in the first three months of the year. But it wasn't as bad as analysts expected.

Shell said it has sold $2 billion worth of assets so far this year, and including those figures, it reported a profit of $4.76bn, a rise of 7%.

Royal Dutch Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden said: "Our results reflect the strength of our integrated business activities, against a backdrop of lower oil prices."

Oil prices dropped from $115 per barrel to as low as $40 per barrel before Christmas, but prices have since recovered slightly to between $50 and $60.

"In what is clearly a difficult industry environment, we continue to take steps to further improve competitive performance by redoubling our efforts to drive a sharper focus on the bottom line in Shell, Mr van Beurden said.