(Recasts, adds quote, earnings details)
By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Suncor Energy Inc , Canada’s largest oil and gas company, reported a fourth-quarter operating loss and cut 2016 capital spending plans on Wednesday because of the collapse in global crude prices.
The Calgary-based company’s operating loss was C$26 million, or 2 Canadian cents a share, versus operating earnings of C$386 million, or 27 Canadian cents a share, in the year-ago period.
It fell short of market expectations of operating earnings of 10 cents a share, underlining how even the biggest oil sands producers are struggling to cope with slumping prices.
Suncor also reported a C$2 billion ($1.46 billion) net loss, or C$1.38 a common share, because of asset writedowns as a result of the weak commodity price environment and unrealized foreign exchange losses on U.S. dollar-denominated debt.
In the year-prior quarter, net earnings were C$84 million, or 6 Canadian cents a share.
The company slashed its 2016 capital budget to C$6 billion to C$6.5 billion, from guidance of C$6.7 billion to C$7.3 billion issued in November, in part by deferring planned maintenance at its Firebag oil sands project in northern Alberta until 2017.
Capacity at that facility rose to 203,000 barrels per day from 180,000 bpd as a result of greater efficiencies.
The bulk of Suncor’s operations are based in the oil sands, where producers have aggressively slashed capital budgets and cut tens of thousands of oil and gas jobs to help drive production costs lower. The company also has operations offshore Atlantic Canada, in the North Sea and in Libya.
Suncor’s cash operating costs for the oil sands dropped to C$28 a barrel in the fourth quarter from C$34.45 a barrel during the same period a year earlier.
The company produced a total of 582,900 barrels of oil equivalent per day, up from 557,600 in the fourth quarter of 2014, primarily because of reliability in oil sands operations. Oil sands production increased 14 percent to 439,700 bpd.
Last month, Suncor reached an agreement to acquire rival Canadian Oil Sands Ltd in an all-stock offer valued at C$6.6 billion, ending a hostile takeover battle raging since October.
The proposed takeover will give Suncor the largest stake in the joint venture Syncrude oil sands project, Canada’s largest single-source crude producer.
Canadian Oil Sands shareholders have until the end of the week to tender their shares to Suncor’s offer of 0.28 of a Suncor share for every Canadian Oil Sands share. ($1 = 1.3737 Canadian dollars) (Editing by Bernard Orr and Peter Cooney)