Canadian Natural hikes dividend, sets 2014 budget at $7.7 billion

CALGARY – Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (TSX:CNQ) is hiking its quarterly dividend by 60 per cent, saying it’s a reflection of the oil and gas company’s confidence in its ability to generate higher cash flow.

The Calgary-based company also announced it expects to increase annual cash flow by 14 per cent in 2014 to $8.7 billion as production output grows by seven per cent over this year’s level.

Part of Canadian Natural’s cash flow will be used to fund a 2014 capital budget of at least $7.7 billion, with an additional $400 million potentially available during the year for the Horizon oilsands project.

That marks an increase over Canadian Natural’s expected 2013 capital spending of nearly $7.2 billion.

Some of the cash flow will also be used to pay a higher quarterly payout to shareholders, with the dividend rising to 20 cents per share on Jan. 1, from the current 12.5 cents per share.

The announcements came as Canadian Natural released its third-quarter financial report, which included a dramatic improvement in adjusted earnings and cash flow.

The third-quarter adjusted earnings rose to $1.01 billion or 93 cents per share — beating the average analyst estimate of 90 cents per share. At the same time last year, Canadian Natural posted adjusted earnings of $353 million or 32 cents per share.

Cash flow from operations rose to $2.4 billion or $2.26 per share in the third quarter, up from $1.43 billion or $1.30 per share a year earlier.

Production was 702,938 barrels of oil equivalent per day, up from 667,616 a year earlier.

Its Horizon oilsands mine north of Fort McMurray, Alta., churned out nearly 112,000 barrels of oil per day, an improvement from 99,205 a year earlier.

Overall construction on an expansion to Horizon is about 30 per cent complete.

Earlier this year, bitumen was found to be seeping to the surface at four separate locations at the company’s Primrose oilsands development on the Cold Lake Weapons Range in eastern Alberta.

The company said clean-up at three of the four sites is “essentially complete” and the fourth is expected to be completed in 2014.

Canadian Natural suspects the seepage is the result of faulty wellbores, but the Alberta Energy Regulator says a cause has not yet been determined.