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April 28 (Bloomberg) -- Suncor Energy Inc., Canada’s largest oil producer by market value, said first-quarter profit rose helped by higher crude prices and shipments of North American crude to the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

Net income was C$1.49 billion ($1.35 billion), or $1.01 a share, compared with C$1.1 billion, or 72 cents, a year earlier, the Calgary-based company said today in a statement.

Chief Executive Officer Steve Williams has focused on boosting earnings by canceling less profitable projects including the Voyageur upgrader and stepping back from a production target of 1 million barrels a day by 2020. The company has protected itself from more volatile Canadian crude prices during the past year with its refineries, which benefit from lower commodity prices.

“Our integrated model combined with improved market access allowed us to maximize the value of every barrel we produced,” Williams said in the release.

Average production was the equivalent of 545,300 barrels a day in the quarter from 596,100 barrels in the year-earlier period. The oil producer said it has been shipping oil on TransCanada Corp.’s pipeline to the Gulf Coast as well as using trains to carry crude to its refinery in Montreal.

The company said higher prices for North American crudes helped earnings. West Texas Intermediate averaged $98.61 in the quarter, a 4.5 percent gain, while Western Canada Select gained 16 percent to $77.76.

The announcement was made today after the close of regular trading in North America. Suncor’s shares, which rose 0.9 percent to C$41.34 at the close, have 25 buy and four hold recommendations from analysts.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeremy van Loon in Calgary at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Susan Warren at Madelene Pearson

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