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(Reuters) - Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNQ.TO) CNQ.N, Canada's largest independent petroleum producer, on Thursday reported a quarterly profit that blew past analysts' expectations, driven by higher realized prices from North America and low costs.
The company said strong production and record low operating costs was driving its cash flow, which is targeted to exceed capital expenditures by about C$230 million ($172 million) per month. The company raised its quarterly dividend by 10 percent.
In a later conference call, company executives predicted possible "opportunistic acquisitions," but did not name them, saying it will buy only ones that "fit" and "add value."
The company may also sell some assets that produce about 1,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) and are not "material components" of the company, executives said.
Canadian Natural, which operates in Western Canada, the North Sea and offshore West Africa, said fund flow from operations rose to C$1.68 billion in the fourth quarter from C$1.38 billion a year earlier.
The company did not express concern about a potential border tax that the U.S. administration has talked about, which could affect the energy sector as nearly all of Canada's crude production is exported south.
"The border tax would probably have a big impact on the Canadian dollar, would drop our costs ... we may be indifferent," President Steve Laut said, adding the tax and its terms are still uncertain.
The company said oil and gas production rose marginally to 859,577 boepd from 855,800 boepd.
However, average realized prices, before hedging, rose nearly 33 percent for crude oil and 6 percent for natural gas. Its operating costs were a record low C$22.53 per barrel in the quarter.
That helped the company's net income jump more than fourfold to C$566 million. On an adjusted basis it posted a profit of C$439 million in the quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with a loss of C$49 million a year earlier.
On a per share basis, its adjusted profit of 40 Canadian cents easily beat the 12 Canadian cents analysts on average were expecting, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The Calgary-based company said it expects crude oil production to rise to 550,000-590,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2017 from 523,873 bbl/d in 2016.
Its natural gas output is expected to rise to 1,700-1,760 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d) this year from 1,691 MMcf/d in 2016.
Reporting by Ethan Lou and Nia Williams in Calgary, Alberta, and Ahmed Farhatha in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D'Souza and Phil Berlowitz