* Q4 adj EPS C$0.64 vs est C$0.69
* Sees 2011 adj EPS C$2.75-C$2.95
* To invest C$145 mln to buy 6.8 pct more in Noverco (Adds executive, analyst comments, background)
By Jeffrey Jones
CALGARY, Alberta, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Fourth-quarter profit at Enbridge Inc (ENB.TO), Canada’s No. 2 pipeline company, fell short of analyst expectations, due to costs associated with a series of outages that disrupted North American crude markets.
Enbridge said accelerated testing and maintenance following two ruptures and oil spills in the U.S. Midwest last year should be mostly completed at the end of March, meaning fewer stoppages on its sprawling system, the main artery for Canadian oil exports to the United States.
The largest rupture was the break of Line 6B in July, which caused about 20,000 barrels of heavy crude to spill near Marshall, Michigan. The line extends to Sarnia, Ontario, from Griffith, Indiana.
“All of this work has of course impacted the availability of our mainline system and we continue to work very hard with our shippers to minimize the overall impact, and also to thank them for their understanding as we complete this very important work,” Chief Executive Patrick Daniel told analysts.
The intensified testing has meant periodic outages on the company’s pipelines at a time when Canadian oil shippers have tried to drain off a glut of supplies in Alberta.
Their nominations for space on the system, which moves about 2 million barrels of oil a day to the Midwest, southern Ontario and points south, have exceeded the system’s capacity for months, forcing Enbridge to apportion its pipelines.
The situation has depressed Canadian heavy oil prices, hampering earnings of producers including Imperial Oil Ltd (IMO.TO).
“The pipeline side of the business is definitely where the weakness was relative to expectations,” Edward Jones analyst Lanny Pendill said. “A lot of that’s due to the business interruption and higher costs related to the spill cleanup efforts. We did see higher taxes in the business as well.”
Enbridge shares were down C$1.03, or 1.8 percent, at C$57.48 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, representing an increase of about 20 percent in the past year.
Fourth-quarter net income rose 9 percent to C$326 million ($329.7 million), or 86 Canadian cents a share, from a year-earlier C$300 million, or 80 Canadian cents a share.
Adjusted profit, which excludes most one-time items, was flat at C$238 million, or 64 Canadian cents a share. Analysts, on average, had expected 69 Canadian cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company expects adjusted earnings of C$2.75 to C$2.95 per share for 2011 and it stuck with a target of 10 percent gains in annual earnings per share through the middle of the decade.
Despite the short-term hit from the pipeline outages, Pendill said he believes the company remains well positioned in several key energy markets, including the oil sands, shale gas and the Gulf of Mexico deep water.
“When you look at the market’s reaction to a slightly weaker than expected quarter, to me that would be a buying opportunity,” he said.
Enbridge also said on Thursday it will invest C$145 million for an additional 6.8 percent stake in Noverco from French utility GDF Suez GSZ.PA, taking its total interest to 38.9 percent.
Noverco, which owns about 9 percent of Enbridge, has a 71 percent stake in Gaz Metro LP [CDPDAG.UL], the Quebec-based natural gas distribution company.
$1=$0.99 Canadian Additional reporting by Bhaswati Mukhopadhyay in Bangalore; editing by Unnikrishnan Nair and Rob Wilson