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Canadian Natural Q1 net almost triples on higher fuel prices


Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (TSE:CNQ), the nation's largest producer of heavy crude, reported profit almost tripled in the first quarter boosted by higher oil and natural gas prices.

Net income rose to C$622 million, or 57 cents per share, from C$213 million, or 19 cents per share, a year earlier, the Calgary, Alberta-based company said in a statement late yesterday.

Excluding items, the per-share profit of 85 cents exceeded the 80-cent analyst expectation.

Sales stripping out royalties increased 17 percent to C$4.4 billion. 

Results benefited from a narrowing of the gap between the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude and Western Canadian Select (WCS).

Daily production before royalties rose 0.6 percent to the equivalent of 684,647 barrels a day.

The company's total average crude oil and natural-gas production for the quarter was 488,788 barrels a day.

The company generated cash flow of C$2.15 billion, up 20 percent from the previous quarter. 

Canadian Natural raised its quarterly dividend to C$0.225 a common share from C$0.20 in the first quarter.

"Canadian Natural had a solid start to the year, with consistent organic growth in North America production as expected," President Steve Laut said in the statement.

The company said the WCS heavy oil differential as a percentage of WTI shrank to an average of 24 percent in the first quarter, down from 34 percent in the first three months of 2013.  Canadian Natural expects that gap with premium-priced WTI to continue narrowing to an average differential of 19 percent in May and 17 percent in June as a result of increased demand for heavier crudes as a result of third party refinery expansion and higher utilization rates. Canadian spot gas prices increased 75 percent to C$5.3013 a gigajoule in the first quarter.

Looking ahead, the company now expects to produce between 537,000 and 574,000 barrels a day, up from its March estimate of 521,000 to 560,000. 

Its expectations for natural gas production also jumped, hitting between 1.53 billion and 1.57 billion cubic feet a day, up from between 1.17 billion and 1.21 billion.

The company, which is a major oil-sands producer, has added C$425 million to its 2014 budget to cover the costs tied to its recent acquisitions and what it views as development opportunities.

The company said its capital expenses could reach between C$11.7 billion and C$12.13 billion in 2014. The company in March expected its capital spending to ring in at about C$7.7 billion and C$8.1 billion. 


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