CALGARY, Alberta, May 7 (Reuters) - Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, the country's largest independent oil and gas producer, said on Thursday it swung to a loss in the first quarter due to sharply lower oil prices even as production rose by nearly a third.
The company reported a net loss of C$252 million ($208.3 million), or 23 Canadian cents per share, compared with a profit of C$622 million, or 57 Canadian cents, in the first quarter of 2014.
Operating profit, which excludes most one-time items, fell 98 percent to C$21 million, or 2 Canadian cents, hampered by weak prices for the company's heavy and synthetic crude oil and a 39 percent fall in Canadian natural gas prices.
The company said it plans to cut its 2015 capital spending plan for a third time, removing a further C$300 million to push its expected annual spending down to C$5.75 billion.
In January, the company slashed this year's capital budget by 28 percent and postponed a heavy oil project to weather oil prices that had dropped more than 50 percent since last June. It later cut another C$150 million from the capital budget.
Still, it plans to go ahead with a spinoff of its royalty lands in Western Canada and the expansion of its Horizon oil sands project.
Canadian Natural's cash flow, a key measure of its ability to pay for expansion plans, fell 36 percent to C$1.37 billion, or C$1.25 per share, in the first quarter.
Production rose 33 percent to 898,053 barrels of oil equivalent per day, from 684,647 boepd in the same period last year on higher output from the Horizon plant, increased natural-gas production and a stronger performance in its heavy oil operations in Western Canada.
Canadian Natural shares, which have dropped 13 percent over the past 12 months, were down 2.2 percent to C$37.61 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
$1 = 1.2097 Canadian dollars Reporting by Scott Haggett; Editing by Paul Simao