Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., the nation’s largest heavy-oil producer, reported its first quarterly loss in more than four years as record output failed to offset a collapse in crude prices.
The first-quarter net loss was C$252 million ($208 million) or 23 cents a share, compared with profit of C$622 million, or 57 cents, a year earlier, the Calgary-based producer said in a statement Thursday. Excluding one-time items, per-share results beat the forecast loss of 9 cents, the average of 15 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
“We continue to focus on cost reduction and efficiency improvements to further improve returns in the current price environment,” Chief Financial Officer Corey Bieber said in the statement. Operating costs to produce oil and natural gas liquids fell 22 percent from the first quarter of 2014, he said.
Canadian Natural is boosting output from oil-sands expansions and natural gas acquisitions even as it curbs spending to withstand crude’s collapse to a six-year price low in March. The company is considering selling or spinning off its so-called royalty lands, which generate about C$186 million in annual income from drilling payments by other producers.
Canadian Natural “has evolved into a super independent with an international scope because of its ability to successfully navigate through successive stages of growth under all kinds of conditions,” Greg Pardy, an analyst at RBC Dominion Securities Inc. in Toronto, wrote in a May 3 note.
The company last reported a net loss in the fourth quarter of 2010.
Canadian Natural’s production averaged the equivalent of 898,053 barrels of oil a day in the first three months, compared with 684,647 a year earlier. The company cut its planned spending by another C$300 million from a March 5 estimate, dropping it to about C$5.7 billion this year, less than half of last year.
West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, fell 51 percent from a year earlier to average $48.57 a barrel during the first three months of the year.
Canadian Natural released the results before the start of regular trading on North American markets. The stock, which has one sell, 25 buy and two hold and recommendations from analysts, has gained 7.1 percent this year. The shares fell 2.9 percent to C$38.48 Wednesday in Toronto.
The company also announced it will maintain its 23.5 Canadian-cent dividend.