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Nov 7, 2019

Canadian Natural shares rise on cash flow, production positives

Canadian Natural Resources

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CALGARY -- Shares in Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. jumped by more than seven per cent on Thursday after it reported higher oil production and financial results that beat expectations.

The Calgary-based oil sands producer's stock rose as high as $36.68 by midday, up $2.54 cents or 7.4 per cent from Wednesday.

It credited its "curtailment optimization strategy" for posting upstream output of 1.18 million barrels of oil equivalent per day in the third quarter, up 15 per cent from the second quarter and 11 per cent over a year ago, despite continuing oil production curtailments imposed by the Alberta government starting last January.

"Our ability to leverage our competitive advantages is reflected in our third quarter where we delivered strong and increasing free cash flow, significantly lower operating costs and production growth per share up an impressive 14 per cent (from third quarter 2018), all in a production-controlled environment," executive vice-chairman Steve Laut told on a conference call with financial analysts.

Canadian Natural said it boosted bitumen production at the Albian oilsands mines it bought from Shell Canada two years ago to a record 318,000 barrels per day in September and October as production at its Horizon oilsands mine fell due to a maintenance shutdown.

At the same time, it raised output from its thermal oilsands projects -- which produce bitumen from wells using steam -- in northern Alberta, including at the Jackfish project it acquired in a $3.8-billion deal with Oklahoma-based Devon Energy Corp. earlier this year.

President Tim McKay said Canadian Natural has identified 30,000 to 50,000 barrels per day of oil production that can be turned on or off to maximize output under curtailment.

The company said a problem with piping on a hydrogen manufacturing unit at Horizon was discovered during the shutdown, so the 250,000-bpd capacity facility is expected to run at a restricted rate of about 155,000 bpd until early December while repairs take place.

McKay said Canadian Natural is in talks with the Alberta government about its attempts to unload crude-by-rail contracts signed by the previous NDP government with railroad companies. The terms are complex and it's difficult to predict whether the company will take part, he said.

He said the company is comfortable that most or all of its production can be moved by incremental increases in pipeline export capacity going into 2020.

Canadian Natural reported it earned $1.03 billion in the three months ended Sept. 30, down from $1.8 billion in the same quarter last year.

The company says the profit amounted to 87 cents per diluted share for the quarter ended Sept. 30 compared with $1.47 a year ago, as revenue totalled $6.16 billion, up from nearly $5.9 billion.

Its adjusted profit from operations amounted to $1.04 per diluted share, down from $1.11 per diluted share in the same quarter last year.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of 77 cents per share, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

CIBC Capital Markets analyst Jon Morrison called the results a "solid volley over consensus expectations."

"In addition to cash flow marching above our estimate at the high end of the Street, performance across the asset base was sound and performance continues to highlight Canadian Natural's acute focus on cost controls, which is part the platform's DNA."