UPDATE 4-Canadian Natural advances new plant, profit falls

Thu Nov 8, 2012 4:36pm EST
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* Executives questioned on share price

* Horizon reliability seen as key to improvement

* Company breakup ruled out

* Third-quarter profit falls 57 pct to C$0.33/share

* Shares fall 3.2 percent

By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Canadian Natural Resources Ltd gave the green light to a new C$5.7 billion ($5.7 billion) oil sands processing plant on Thursday, but it failed to cheer investors after the company reported weaker-than-expected third-quarter results, prompting a 3 percent drop in the shares.

Canadian Natural, the country's largest independent oil and gas producer, faced unusually frank questions on a conference call about its weakened stock price and its prospects. It is dealing with low heavy oil and natural gas prices and is trying to iron out operational problems at its Horizon oil sands plant in Alberta.

The company blamed a 57 percent drop in earnings on lower realized oil and gas prices and it chopped capital spending by C$230 million, bringing the year's budget cuts to C$910 million, or 12 percent.   Continued...