* Oper EPS C$0.42 versus C$0.25 a year-earlier
* Oil sands production beats expectations
* Operating savings estimate doubled to C$800 mln a year
* Shares jump 8 percent (New throughout with executive comments, details)
By Jeffrey Jones
CALGARY, Alberta, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Suncor Energy Inc (SU.TO) said on Thursday its third-quarter profit jumped a better-than-expected 10 percent as oil sands operations shrugged off the impact of pipeline outages and maintenance downtime, sending the company’s shares 8 percent higher.
Suncor, Canada’s biggest energy company, also doubled its estimate for annual cost savings following the 2009 takeover of Petro-Canada to C$800 million ($800 million), freeing up cash to boost production or possibly increase dividends.
Production from the company’s marquee oil sands operations beat expectations in October, despite a six-week maintenance outage at a major processing unit, pushing overall third-quarter volumes higher, Canaccord Genuity analyst Phil Skolnick said.
Suncor’s shares have languished in the past year, partly due to reliability problems in the oil sands, especially at its upgraders, which turn the crude into refinery-ready oil. Before Thursday, the stock had lost 12 percent on the year.
The stock was up C$2.58 at C$35.38 on the Toronto Stock Exchange at midday on Thursday.
“It was one of our strongest quarters in terms of oil sands production,” Suncor Chief Executive Rick George told analysts. “And what makes that even more important is that we reached these volumes while also completing major planned maintenance.”
In addition, the company’s integrated operations, including large storage positions, helped it avoid many of the effects of the outages of two Enbridge Inc (ENB.TO) pipelines in the U.S. Midwest during the summer, he said.
In the quarter, Suncor earned C$1.02 billion, or 65 Canadian cents a share, up from a year-earlier C$929 million, or 69 Canadian cents a share.
Excluding unusual items, earnings were C$654 million, or 42 Canadian cents a share, up from C$343 million, or 25 Canadian cents a share, a year earlier.
The company had been expected to earn 36 Canadian cents a share, the average of analyst forecasts compiled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Cash flow, a glimpse into a company’s ability to fund development, rose threefold to C$1.63 billion, or C$1.04 a share, from C$575 million, or 43 Canadian cents, in the third quarter of 2009.
Total production averaged 635,500 barrels of oil equivalent a day, up from 531,800 in the year-before period.
Oil sands production, excluding Suncor’s share of output from the Syncrude joint venture, was 306,600 barrels a day, up from 305,300 bpd, a year ago.
Suncor raised its target for Canadian East Coast production for the year by 5,000 barrels a day to 70,000 due to stronger-than-expected performance. It cut its outlook for international production by 23,000 bpd to 110,000 due to asset sales, it said.
Overall post-takeover asset sales are now pegged at C$3.5 billion.
George said he expects rising return on capital over the next two years as improving market conditions prompt Suncor to rekindle projects it shelved during the economic crisis.
The largest is the Voyageur upgrader project, which Suncor put on hold in early 2009 after investing C$4 billion of the total C$11.6 billion price.
“In my mind it’s not a question of if, the only question is when (Suncor relaunches Voyageur),” he said.
$1=$1.00 Canadian Additional reporting by Sakthi Prasad in Bangalore; editing by Peter Galloway