* Q4 EPS C$0.72, versus C$0.70 in year-earlier quarter
* Adjusted operating earnings C$0.55 a share
* Company says expects 20 percent growth in EPS in 2009 (Recasts with comments and details. Changes dateline; previous TORONTO.)
By Scott Haggett
CALGARY, Alberta, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Enbridge Inc (ENB.TO) said on Friday it expects to boost profit by 20 percent this year despite economic turmoil, as it reported fourth-quarter earnings that rose 6 percent.
Enbridge, Canada’s No. 2 pipeline firm and one of just 21 major companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange whose shares have risen over the past 12 months, said it expects earnings to rise by a fifth in 2009.
The gains come as it completes new lines in Canada and the United States, part of a C$12 billion ($9.7 billion) expansion program running through 2012 that is designed to haul crude from northern Alberta’s oil sands to new markets.
“We are moving into the steeper part of the growth curve over the remaining years through 2012,” Pat Daniel, Enbridge’s chief executive, said on a conference call. “We really now are moving into the sweet spot for our investors.”
The company is forecasting average profit growth of 10 percent through 2012. However it cautioned that beyond that point growth may become more difficult as more than C$90 billion in expensive new projects in the oil sands have been canceled in recent months as oil prices have plunged.
“Ultimately, we expect crude oil prices and oil sands costs will reestablish an equilibrium which will support steady sustained growth well beyond 2012, though at a more modest pace than we’ve seen,” Daniel said.
With moderate growth at best coming from the oil sands, Enbridge said it may look to add a slate of natural gas pipelines to take advantage of burgeoning production from U.S. shale gas plays and new output from the U.S. Rockies and the Gulf of Mexico.
“They’ll probably need to be shifting their strategy,” said Steven Paget, an analyst at FirstEnergy Capital. He said Enbridge may be looking at between C$5 billion and C$8 billion in new investment in natural gas projects. PROFIT RISES
Enbridge, whose pipelines carry the lion’s share of Canada’s oil exports to the United States, reported net income of C$263.4 million ($214.1 million), or 72 Canadian cents per share, up from C$248.6 million, or 70 Canadian cents, in the fourth quarter of 2007.
The company said earnings in the quarter were helped by increased interest in Enbridge Energy Partners (EEP.N) and a stronger U.S. dollar.
Enbridge reiterated that it expects its 2009 earnings per share to rise by 20 percent as it advances its portfolio of liquids pipelines.
Enbridge said it has about C$3.3 billion of liquidity and that it is well positioned to capitalize on opportunities available in the current market.
The company said its adjusted operating earnings rose to C$202.5 million from C$198.6 million, but on a per-share basis, they slipped to 55 Canadian cents from 56 Canadian cents.
The operating result lagged analysts’ average forecast of 57 Canadian cents per share, according to Reuters Estimates.
Revenue rose to 23 percent to C$3.5 billion.
The company’s Toronto Stock Exchange-listed shares fell 10 Canadian cents to $41.50 late on Friday morning. The stock has risen 2.1 percent over the past 12 months, while the exchange’s benchmark index has fallen 33 percent over the period.
$1=$1.24 Canadian Additioanl reporting by John McCrank; editing by Peter Galloway