Suncor not looking at more exploration and production projects — for now

CALGARY – Oilsands giant Suncor Energy Inc. says it’s taking a pass for now at “exploring the world,” even though some opportunities may be up for grabs from competitors.

“Most companies are much more stressed than Suncor are so there’s a huge number of opportunities in the conventional upstream, in oilsands and in the downstream,” Suncor president and chief executive Steve Williams told analysts during a conference call Thursday.

“We have been very, very disciplined and found nothing of interest to us. So while we have the capability to do it, you’ve seen us exercise discipline around what we’ve actually done.”

The Calgary-based company noted that this doesn’t mean that it won’t consider opportunities in areas where it already has a competitive advantage.

Suncor reported Wednesday after markets closed that it had net earnings of $919 million or 63 cents per share, down from nearly $1.7 billion or $1.13 per share, a year earlier.

Operating earnings, which strip out the effects of unusual items, were $1.3 billion, or 89 cents per share, beating the average analyst estimate of 77 cents per share as compiled by Thomson Reuters. During the same 2013 quarter, operating earnings were $1.4 billion, or 95 cents per share.

Revenue in the third quarter was $10.3 billion compared with $10.4 billion a year earlier.

Williams said declining crude prices, a drop in production from its exploration and production business and foreign exchange fluctuations affected overall net earnings.

Suncor said it is positioned its balance sheet to withstand volatile oil prices, but that it was anyone’s guess on how low prices might go.

“First, I would say that forecasting short-term oil prices is not for the faint of heart. Even the experts get it wrong almost as often as they’re right,” he said.

“Because of that near-term uncertainty, we use conservative assumptions in our planning. We’re focused on driving costs out of our business and we maintain a very healthy balance sheet. Pricing volatility is a reality in our business and we believe it’s critical to be well prepared for the inevitable down cycles.”

Company-wide production dropped to 519,300 barrels of oil equivalent per day from 595,000 barrels due to asset sales, maintenance work at some of its operations and lower production from Libya.

But output from its oilsands business rose to 411,700 barrels per day the third quarter from 396,400 in the same year-earlier period.

Work is underway on the Fort Hills oilsands mining project, which Suncor will operate. Other partners include the Canadian arm of France’s Total and Vancouver miner Teck Resources Ltd.

Some construction has begun in the field and detailed engineering work is about 55 per cent complete on the $13.5-billion project. Fort Hills is expected to start up in late 2017 and reach 90 per cent of its planned capacity a year after that.