Energy giant Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) on Friday reported its highest net profit in over eight years as falling crude oil prices boosted refining and petrochemical margins at the company controlled by billionaire Mukesh Ambani.

RIL’s consolidated net profit rose 15.94% in the three months ended 31 March to 7,398 crore from 6,381 crore a year earlier. Consolidated revenue dropped 8.9% to 64,596 crore from 70,863 crore a year earlier.

A Bloomberg poll of nine analysts had estimated the company’s net profit at 7,125.4 crore. A poll of seven analysts had estimated revenue at 57,708 crore.

Stand-alone profit for the March quarter was 7,320 crore, up from 6,243 crore a year ago. A Bloomberg poll of 14 analysts had estimated the company to post a stand-alone net profit of 7,018.8 crore.

For the full fiscal year to 31 March, RIL posted a net profit of 27,630 crore, up 17.2% from 23,566 crore in the previous year.

In the process, RIL toppled Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS) to become the most profitable company. TCS posted an annual consolidated net profit of 24,292 crore in the year to March.

TCS had in the third quarter of FY15 overtaken RIL for the first time in 23 years, with a net profit of 5,388 crore against RIL’s 5,085 crore.

“This is our highest ever profit. Overall, demand has been very good," said Srikanth Venkatachari, joint chief financial officer at RIL. “It is a very strong domestic demand environment which we have not seen in the last 15 years."

Gross refining margin, or GRM, on each barrel of crude processed by the company was $10.8 per barrel, weaker than expected but still higher than $10.1 a year ago. Analysts had expected RIL’s GRM to widen to $11 a barrel.

Ahead of the earnings announcement, RIL shares closed at 1,038.75 apiece, down 0.21% on BSE, while the benchmark Sensex index lost 0.16% to close at 25,838.14 points on Friday.

The company announced a dividend of 10.50 per share.

“FY 2015-16 has been a year of outstanding achievement for our downstream hydrocarbon businesses, notwithstanding persisting global economic uncertainty," chairman Ambani said in a statement.

“Refining and petrochemicals delivered record operating and financial performances. Our refineries sustained double-digit GRMs and record levels of utilization through the year," he added.

The refining segment recorded record quarterly Ebit (earnings before interest and tax) of 6,394 crore, up 30.4% year-on-year. Petrochemicals Ebit on a consolidated basis rose by 35.4% to 2,713 crore.

Ebit from RIL’s oil and gas business fell 97% to 14 crore.

“The segment profitability was impacted by lower oil and gas price realizations and decrease in domestic upstream volume," the company said.

“US shale operations were impacted by low commodity prices despite marginally higher volumes," it said.

RIL will further prune investment in its shale gas business to $125 million from $500 million, the company said.

During the fourth quarter, revenue at Reliance Retail rose 21% year-on-year to 5,781 crore from 4,788 crore a year earlier, the company said. Ebit for the quarter rose 26% to 131 crore.

During the year, Reliance Retail added 624 stores, taking the total store count to 3,245 across 532 cities.

“Reliance Retail continued its path of profitable expansion while maintaining a robust revenue growth of 23% during the year. Looking ahead, we are focused on ensuring a flawless start-up and stabilization of the new growth platforms across our hydrocarbon and consumer businesses. The commercial roll-out of our Jio services this year will digitally enable a billion Indians and propel growth for India and Reliance," added Ambani.

RIL is expanding its petrochemicals capacity and investing in projects to reduce energy and feedstock costs to boost profits. The new projects may boost margins by $1.5-2 a barrel amid lower oil prices, according to Dhaval Joshi, a Mumbai-based analyst at Emkay Global Financial Services Ltd.

“The new downstream projects hold the key to Reliance’s future earnings," Joshi said.

The company reiterated that Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, its telecom arm, would launch commercial operations this year but didn’t specify a precise timeline.

RIL said its capital expenditure (capex) for this fiscal year would be $9 billion ( 59,850 crore today) across businesses, half of which would go to Jio.

Overall, RIL spent 1 trillion in capex across its businesses in FY16. “Significant amount of self-funding will happen. We have 95,000 crore of net debt, but our Ebitda (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) is around 50,000 crore," the company said.

Bloomberg contributed to this story.

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