CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canadian Natural Resources Ltd's (CNQ.TO) fourth-quarter profit more than doubled on surging oil prices and gains from lower future tax rates, the country's No. 2 oil explorer said on Thursday.
Canadian Natural, nearing completion of the first phase of its massive Horizon oil sands project in Alberta, earned C$798 million ($814 million), or C$1.48 per share, up from year-earlier C$313 million, or 58 Canadian cents.
Results included a gain of C$793 million from cuts to future tax rates in Canada and an unrealized hedging loss of C$593 million.
Excluding one-time items, the company earned C$546 million, or C$1.02 per share, from C$412 million, or 77 Canadian cents per share in the year-earlier quarter.
On average, analysts polled by Reuters Estimates expected a profit of C$1.05 per share.
Canadian Natural shares were up C$1.40, or 2 percent, at C$73.22 on the Toronto Stock Exchange. They had climbed 22 percent in the previous 12 months.
UBS Securities analyst Andrew Potter wrote in a research note that the earnings beat his expectations by a few cents on a combination of lower operating costs and higher international crude oil prices.
The company is just months away from completing its 110,000 barrel per day Horizon oil sands project, though it said two weeks ago that costs for the facility will be as much as C$7.8 billion, C$1.9 billion more than initial estimates.
When up and running August, Horizon's oil will augment Canadian Natural's production from Canada, the North Sea and offshore West Africa.
The company's cash flow from operations, a key measure of its ability to pay for new projects and drilling, rose 16 percent to C$1.49 billion, or C$2.75 a share, from C$1.29 billion, or C$2.41 a share.
Canadian Natural sees cash flow approaching C$6 billion this year, and a debt-to-book capitalization of about 40 percent. Cash flow was C$6.2 billion, or C$11.49 a share, in 2007.
The company's natural gas production fell 1.8 percent to 1.59 billion cubic feet a day and oil and gas liquids output fell 2 percent to 337,240 barrels a day.
The company said its average oil price was C$58.02 in the fourth quarter, up 23 percent from the year before.
Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Jeffrey Jones; Editing by Peter Galloway