Baton Rouge-based H&E Equipment Services reported a fourth-quarter profit of $7.9 million, or 23 cents per share, nearly tripling the expectations of Wall Street analysts.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had forecast earnings of 8 cents per share. A year earlier, H&E lost $2.5 million, or 7 cents per share, a year earlier.

H&E, which sells and rents construction equipment, said revenue for the quarter climbed 24.3 percent to $217 million. New equipment sales increased to $86.6 million, 36.7 percent more than for the same period in 2010. Rental revenue rose 21.4 percent to $62.6 million.

For the year, H&E turned a profit of $8.8 million, or 26 cents per share, well above the 10 cents stock analysts had forecast. In 2010, the company lost $25.5 million, or 73 cents per share.

H&E President and Chief Executive Officer John Engquist described the fourth quarter as “exceptionally strong” in a news release.

Business related to the oil and gas industry greatly increased, Engquist said. While commercial construction activity showed a modest improvement, customers’ purchases of new equipment demonstrated more confidence in the economy’s recovery.