Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. said Wednesday that a big refund of softwood lumber duties collected by the United States helped the company cut its fourth-quarter loss.

Montreal-based Abitibi said $239 million US in lumber duties were refunded. The U.S. had been collecting the duties on Canadian softwood lumber since 2002.

The company's loss for the quarter was $22 million, or five cents a share, which was a sharp reduction from the loss of $355 million, or 81 cents a share, Abitibi reported a year earlier.

Factoring out one-time accounting items, Abitibi said it would have lost 14 cents a share in the most recent quarter. According to Thomson Financial, analysts had a consensus forecast of a loss of 13 cents a share.

Fourth-quarter sales were $1.18 billion, down from $1.31 billion.

Abitibi recently announced plans to merge with South Carolina-based Bowater Inc., which would create the No. 3 publicly traded forest products company in North America. The merged firm would have revenues of roughly $9.3 billion.

Shares of Abitibi finished unchanged at $3.81 on the TSX.