Canadian Natural Resources Limited Management Discusses Q1 2012 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNQ)

Q1 2012 Earnings Call

May 04, 2012 11:00 am ET

Executives

John G. Langille - Vice Chairman

Steve W. Laut - Principal Executive Officer, President and Director

Douglas A. Proll - Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President of Finance

Analysts

George Toriola - UBS Investment Bank, Research Division

Greg M. Pardy - RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division

David McColl - Morningstar Inc., Research Division

Christopher Feltin - Macquarie Research

Presentation

Operator

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Canadian Natural 2012 resources First Quarter Conference Call. I would now like to turn the meeting over to Mr. John Langille, Vice Chairman of Canadian Natural resources. Please go ahead, Mr. Langille.

John G. Langille

Thank you, operator, and good morning, everyone. Thank you for attending this conference call, where we will discuss our first quarter 2012 results and review our planned activity for the balance of 2012, and in some cases, beyond that. Participating with me today are Steve Laut, our President; and Doug Proll, our Chief Financial Officer.

Before we start, I would refer you to the comments regarding forward-looking information contained in our press release and also note that all dollar amounts are in Canadian dollars, and production and reserves are both expressed as before royalties unless otherwise stated. I'll make some initial comments before I turn the call over to Steve and Doug for their in-depth discussion.

We have come out of a challenging first quarter with even more conviction that our business strategy, plans and principles are right for our industry. Part of our strategy is to maintain an extensive base of assets which can: firstly, contribute strong current production to generate significant cash flow; secondly, provide excellent economic development opportunities in the near- to mid-term frame -- time frames; and thirdly, establish significant growth vehicles for production growth in the 5-plus year time period. As Steve reviews our projects, you will see this base of assets has been set up and is delivering on the strategy.

Natural gas economics have been under pressure for a number of years, as less and less natural gas projects have been able to achieve a recycle ratio of greater than 2. Reacting to this, our drilling operations and natural gas projects have been reduced in each year for the past 6 years, and this year will be no different. We continue to monitor our producing areas, and we'll take any necessary steps, including shutting in production, to ensure we are making positive cash flows from these areas, and in very limited situations, carrying out activities that will provide adequate returns.

On the other hand, E&P activities on oil prospects continue to be robust. Over 90% of our revenue now comes from sales of oil. We are reaching new levels of production and cash flow achievements. Our light medium oil production in Canada is now averaging over 40,000 barrels per day, as new plays and EOR opportunities are pursued. In addition, production of NGLs climbed to over 25,000 barrels. Strong drilling results in our primary heavy oil areas has resulted in first quarter production of 120,000 barrels per day. One year ago, we were only producing 97,000 barrels.

Our international operations continue to contribute free cash flow, with $180 million of free cash flow in excess of the capital requirements of our international operations in the first quarter. And as expected, now that the scheming cycle is ending at Primrose, our thermal in situ property, production is starting to ramp up again and is together targeted to increase daily production to over 100,000 barrels from this quarter's 80,000 barrels.

Our mining asset incurred some unplanned maintenance time in the first quarter, as repairs had to be carried out on the fractionator tower. These repairs were completed in a timely fashion and the production recommenced in mid-March, with April's production reaching almost 112,000 barrels per day.

Oil pricing continued to be volatile and continues today to be volatile, especially with respect to the discounts being charged in Canadian oil production in the first quarter, including synthetic crude oil. The discount climbed dramatically in the first quarter from the last quarter in 2011, as planned and unplanned maintenance issues caused a number of refinery shut-ins during the first quarter and into the early part of the second quarter. As expected, as these refineries are placed back online, the discount is tightening up again. Additional pipeline capacity, some of which is under construction and close to being completed, should also help to alleviate these discounts and the disconnect between Brent pricing and WTI pricing.

We are at a very strong financial position, with our operation providing cash flow to carry out our capital programs; take advantage of any opportunistic acquisitions that may arise; pay dividends, an increase of 17% over last year; and buy back shares if appropriate. Our teams are strong, and we are looking forward to carrying out our objectives over the remainder of 2012.

Now I'd like to turn the call over to Steve for a more detailed analysis on the properties. Steve?

Steve W. Laut

Thanks, John, and good morning, everyone. In the first quarter, Canadian Natural continued to execute our proven strategy, based on effective and efficient operations and optimizing capital allocation to ensure we maximize the return on capital, generate free cash flow, maintain our strong balance sheet through the price cycles, transition our asset base to a more sustainable long-term asset base and provide the ability to increase dividends on a consistent basis. Canadian Natural was one of the few companies in our peer group that has a strong, well-balanced and diverse asset base with significant upside in each component of our business. We have, on a consistent basis, been able to effectively allocate capital and maximize return on capital over the long run and throughout commodity price cycles. Today, with oil prices and low -- strong oil prices and low gas prices, Canadian Natural continues to allocate capital disproportionately to oil projects.

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