By Juliette Portala

(Reuters) -Dutch oil and chemical storage company Vopak beat first-quarter earnings expectations on Wednesday helped by growth projects and a good performance in the Americas which offset challenges in Europe.

Its core profit (EBITDA) reached 213.1 million euros in the first three months of 2022, topping the 203 million expected by analysts and sending its shares as much as 7.2% higher in early trading.

CEO Dick Richelle told Reuters that although Europe faced challenges following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the group’s balanced portfolio could counter them.

“If oil is under pressure, chemicals come up. If Europe is under pressure, you see America and other regions compensating for that,” he said.

KBC analyst Olivier Vandewoude said the results were confirming the group’s “relative stability” while Quirijn Mulder at ING pointed to “reasonable results in turbulent times”.

“We find the results of Vopak to be reasonable but no more than that,” Mulder wrote in a note to clients, adding that Vopak outlook needed to be “refreshed”.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, last week cut its forecast for growth in world oil demand in 2022, citing the war in Ukraine, rising inflation and the resurgence of the Omicron coronavirus variant in China.

“No operations in Russia, no operations in Ukraine, no operations in the Baltic states or Scandinavia,” said Richelle regarding the company’s limited direct exposure to the conflict.

The firm, however, warned of indirect consequences from higher utility prices, cost inflation and exchange rates as it booked 165 million euros ($178.40 million) in costs for the quarter, up from 151 million a year earlier.

According to the International Energy Agency, which plans to release 120 million barrels of oil from strategic reserves within six months, the impact of sanctions and buyer aversion on Russian oil will take full effect from May onwards.

“On the oil side, the market is still settling,” Richelle said.

($1 = 0.9249 euros)

(Reporting by Juliette Portala; editing by Milla Nissi and Jason Neely)