* Targets asset sales worth C$2 bln-C$4 bln
* Output will fall by 10 percent after divestitures
* Q3 operating EPS C$0.23 vs C$0.87
* Shares up 1 Canadian cent at C$35.38 (Recasts with executive comments; In US dollars unless noted)
By Jeffrey Jones
CALGARY, Alberta, Nov 6 (Reuters) - Suncor Energy Inc (SU.TO) aims to jettison up to C$4 billion ($3.8 billion) in assets, including a third of its natural gas holdings, in 2010 as it looks to cut debt after its takeover of Petro-Canada, its chief executive said on Friday.
The sales by Canada’s biggest oil company will reduce its overall production by 10 percent, but that will be made up quickly as Suncor embarks on new projects as industry conditions improve during the economic recovery, CEO Rick George said.
He made the remarks after Suncor, known for its dominance in northern Alberta’s oil sands, reported a 64 percent drop in operating profit in its initial quarter with Petro-Canada operations integrated into its own, due to big drops in oil and natural gas prices.
Besides gas operations, Suncor will look to unload smaller interests in the North Sea, all of its assets in Trinidad and Tobago as well as a corporate aircraft.
“In total the target that we have is about C$2 billion to C$4 billion worth of asset sales. Most of that will take place in 2010,” George told analysts.
He also said he is confident that the company will beat its post-takeover target of C$300 million in annual cost savings and C$1 billion in reduced capital spending.
Suncor plans to announce its 2010 budget next week. In it, it will outline its priorities for numerous projects that it and Petro-Canada had planned, such as the expansion of its Firebag steam-driven oil sands project and the Fort Hills oil sands mining proposal, both in northern Alberta.
George ruled out following ConocoPhillips (COP.N) and selling its 12 percent stake in the Syncrude Canada Ltd oil sands venture, which it acquired in the Petro-Canada deal.
Syncrude is adjacent to Suncor’s own northern Alberta oil sands mine and plant. Conoco said last month it would auction off its 9 percent Syncrude interest as part of its own $10 billion asset sale initiative.
“We do think it does give us a real window into some of the operations of Syncrude, and it also, in a way, helps us in terms of our customer base,” he said. “We’re a big producer of synthetic crude oil so when we have upsets on Syncrude or Suncor, we’ll still be able to meet our delivery targets.”
In the third quarter, Suncor earned C$929 million, or 74 Canadian cents a share, up 14 percent from the year-earlier C$815 million, or 87 Canadian cents a share.
Excluding gains such as tax recoveries and currency translation, operating earnings fell by nearly two-thirds to C$288 million, or 23 Canadian cents a share, from C$810 million or 87 Canadian cents a share.
Suncor had been expected to earn 29 Canadian cents a share, according to a survey of analysts by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Suncor shares were up 1 Canadian cent at C$35.38 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Friday. They have edged up 1.5 percent since the company closed the C$22.8 billion Petro-Canada deal on Aug. 1.
Cash flow, a glimpse into an oil company’s ability to fund drilling and other projects, was C$574 million, down almost 50 percent from C$1.15 billion.
In the third quarter, oil prices fell 42 percent from the year before to average $68.24 a barrel, and natural gas prices sank more than 60 percent to C$2.83 a gigajoule.
Oil and gas output in the last two months of the third quarter, the period that included Petro-Canada production, averaged 630,600 barrels of oil equivalent per day.
Oil sands output, excluding the share from Syncrude, averaged 305,300 barrels a day, up 24 percent from 245,600 a year earlier. Output was held back by extensive planned maintenance, George said.
The company expects full-year 2009 oil sands output of 290,000-305,000 barrels a day.
$1=$1.06 Canadian Additional reporting by Ajay Kamalakaran; Editing by Hans Peters and Peter Galloway