* Q1 EPS C$0.70 vs C$0.69
* Cash flow per share C$0.96 vs C$0.99
* Shares up 3 percent at C$29.52 (Adds details, background)
CALGARY, Alberta, April 29 (Reuters) - Cenovus Energy Inc (CVE.TO), Canada’s third-largest independent oil and gas producer, reported higher than expected profit on Thursday as oil production and prices jumped.
The oil sands-focused company, which became an independent firm last year when it was spun off by EnCana Corp (ECA.TO), earned C$525 million ($522 million), or 70 Canadian cents a share, up from a year-earlier C$515 million, or 69 Canadian cents a share.
On an operating basis, the company earned C$353 million, or 47 Canadian cents a share, down 15 percent from C$414 million, or 55 Canadian cents a share.
The company had been expected to earn 38 Canadian cents a share, the average of analysts’ estimates compiled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Shares in Cenovus jumped 93 Canadian cents, or 3 percent, to C$29.52 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Cash flow, a glimpse into an oil company’s ability to fund projects, fell 3 percent to C$721 million, or 96 Canadian cents a share, from C$741 million, or 99 cents.
It blamed the drop in cash flow on lower natural gas prices and production, as well as weak refining margins.
Cenovus is known for its steam-driven oil sands projects in Alberta, including Foster Creek and Christina Lake, where output climbed a combined 66 percent in the quarter. It is also known for its stakes in two U.S. refineries as part of a joint venture with ConocoPhillips (COP.N).
Production from Foster Creek averaged 51,000 barrels a day, up 79 percent from the first quarter of 2009, and output from Christina Lake climbed 12 percent to more than 7,000 barrels a day. Cenovus has said it is accelerating its Christina Lake expansion.
UBS Securities analyst Matt Donahue wrote in a research note that Foster Creek production was higher than expected, as was the company’s conventional oil and gas output.
Oil prices rose 86 percent from recessionary lows in the first quarter of 2009 to average $78.37 per barrel, and prices for heavy crude have also been favorable as the discount to light crudes has narrowed.
$1=$1.01 Canadian Reporting by Jeffrey Jones and Scott Anderson; editing by Rob Wilson