Imperial Oil hikes dividend, buyback after profit jump

(Reuters) - Canada's Imperial Oil Ltd IMO.TO on Friday reported a 55 percent jump in quarterly profit, helped by strength in its refining and chemicals businesses, and the company boosted its dividend and repurchase program.

The company’s shares rose as much as 4.5 percent to C$40.47.

Desjardins analyst Justin Bouchard called the dividend hike a “pleasant surprise”, as it was almost double his estimate.

Imperial raised its quarterly dividend to 19 Canadian cents from 16 Canadian cents per share and the number of shares that may be repurchased to up to 5 percent of the outstanding float, from 3 percent.

The buyback increase was a positive move, showing confidence in the cash flow generating ability of the company, Bouchard said.

Imperial’s net income soared to C$516 million ($402 million), or 62 Canadian cents per share, in the first quarter ended March 31.

The results come at a time when constraints related to the export of Canadian heavy crude due to a lack of pipeline capacity and delays in shipping by rail have weighed on the industry.

“We had accounted for the pricing and transportation issues plaguing everyone in the industry. It was the downstream and chemicals that were the surprise, that outperformed versus our numbers,” Bouchard said.

Oil sands producer Cenovus CVE.TO posted a first-quarter loss, hurt by shipping bottlenecks on Wednesday. Low oil prices and a slow ramp up at its offshore Indonesia project saw Husky Energy HSE.TO cut its 2018 production on Thursday.

Imperial, which is majority owned by Exxon Mobil Corp XOM.N, said total revenue and other income rose about 11 percent to C$7.93 billion.

The oil producer and refiner’s production fell to 370,000 gross oil-equivalent barrels per day from 378,000 a year earlier due to lower volumes at its Cold Lake oil sands project in northeastern Alberta.

However, the company’s income from refining rose about 37 percent to C$521 million.

($1 = C$1.29)

Reporting by Nishara Karuvalli Pathikkal; Editing by Maju Samuel