LyondellBasell Industries NV's quarterly operating profit fell far short of Wall Street expectations as refining margins dropped, pushing its stock down 8 percent in premarket trading.

Rival Dow Chemical reported tepid results last week as European customers chose to draw down stockpiles rather than make new purchases amid the sovereign debt crisis.

We expect overall first-quarter economic activity to remain slow in Europe and Asia for certain of our businesses, LyondellBasell Chief Executive Jim Gallogly said in a statement.

The company's European refineries use expensive crude oil-derived naphtha to produce chemicals, a process that is much more expensive than in the United States, where cheap natural gas can be used to make the same products.

LyondellBasell is seeing improving margins for ethylene in its U.S. operations, Gallogly said.

The company reported a net loss of $218 million, or 38 cents per share, for the fourth quarter, compared with net profit of $766 million, or $1.34 per share, in the year-ago period.

Excluding one-time items, such as early debt repayment and the mothballing of a French refinery, LyondellBasell earned 41 cents per share. By that measure, analysts on average expected 76 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue rose 8 percent to $11.44 billion. Analysts expected $12.04 billion.

During the quarter LyondellBasell doubled its dividend and said it would pay a separate special dividend.

The company, which emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2010, also said it would buy back nearly $2.8 billion of debt, substantially improving its balance sheet. LyondellBasell recorded a $431 million charge in the fourth quarter for the move.

Last fall LyondelBasell decided to shut its Berre, France, refinery, which employs 370 workers. The decision sparked a strike at the plant. The company ultimately decided to put the refinery in cocoon mode, meaning it will be stopped, cleaned, and given another year for a potential acquirer to buy it.

Shares of LyondellBasell dropped 8 percent to $41.00 in premarket trading. The stock has traded between $22.90 and $48.12 in the past 52 weeks.

Elsewhere on Friday, Apollo Global Management LLC , which owns a stake in LyondellBasell, reported a drop in fourth-quarter earnings due to changes in the accounting value of some assets.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder in New York and Swetha Gopinath in Bangalore; Editing by Don Sebastian and John Wallace)