Imperial (TSX:IMO) Oilsands profit up 64 per cent Dominion Lending Centres Clearlease

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – (April 28, 2011) Clearlease Reports First-quarter profits at Imperial Oil Ltd. jumped by nearly two thirds on improved oilsands production, higher refining margins and a falloff in maintenance activities, the major oil producer said Thursday.

Calgary-based Imperial (TSX:IMO) said its performance was driven primarily by production of 310,000 barrels a day during the period, eclipsing the year-earlier’s 291,000 barrels, thanks to record production from the Syncrude and Cold Lake projects.

Profits were $781 million, or 91 cents per share, compared with net earnings of $476 million, or 56 cents per share, in the same period of 2010. Revenue rose to $6.87 billion from $6.17 billion.

Analysts polled by Thomson-Reuters were, on average, expecting Imperial to earn 96 cents per share and post revenues of about $6.7 billion.

“The 64 per cent earnings increase resulted from improved industry refining margins, higher Syncrude and Cold Lake production and lower refinery planned maintenance activities,” chairman and CEO Bruce March said in a statement.

“These factors were partially offset by the unfavourable foreign exchange effects of the stronger Canadian dollar. Reliability and expense management improvements in all operating segments allowed us to capture higher crude oil realizations in the upstream and improved margins in petroleum product markets.”

Imperial also said Thursday it was keeping its quarterly dividend steady at 11 cents per share.

Imperial, majority-owned by Houston-based energy heavyweight ExxonMobil Corp. (NYSE:XOM), is in the midst of building its $8-billion Kearl oilsands mine. The first 110,000 barrel per day phase of that project is set to come on stream late next year.

The company has run into some problems bringing enormous pieces of equipment from South Korea to the mine site north of Fort McMurray, Alta.

The modules have travelled across the Pacific, through the port at Vancouver, Wash., and along the Columbia and Snake Rivers. They are now stalled at the inland port of Lewiston, Idaho, waiting to make the rest of the journey by truck to Alberta via Montana.

The 207 megaloads are so big that changes have to be made to some Montana highways to accommodate them. Environmentalists are concerned about erosion and other ecological damage the loads may cause and have challenged the Montana government in court over its approval of the highway modifications.

Imperial said Thursday that construction on Phase 1 is 60 per cent complete and remains on schedule for a 2012 startup. The company has reconfigured the project from three phases to two phases to cut costs.

Imperial’s other oilsands holdings include vast steam-driven operations at Cold Lake and a 25 per cent interest in the Syncrude mine, the world’s largest oilsands project.

Imperial Oil also runs a chain of Esso-branded fuel stations across the country, as well as refineries in Alberta and Ontario and is the lead partner on the long-stalled Mackenzie Gas Project, which would bring natural gas from the Northwest Territories to southern markets via a 1,220-kilometre pipeline.

A formal regulatory process finally wrapped in March after several years of delay. Imperial needs to secure some 6,000 other permits from local boards and agencies before construction can begin and has said the absolute soonest gas could start flowing through pipeline would be 2018.

The Northwest Territories government, and many communities in the area, are eager to see the pipeline built because of the economic benefits it would bring.

Shares in Imperial were down $1.55, or more than three per cent, at $48.72 Thursday morning on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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