ALBERTA

Canadian Natural on lookout for Montney deal, open to sale or joint-venture

03/07/2013 06:55 EST | Updated 05/07/2013 05:12 EDT
CALGARY - Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. is on the lookout for a deal that will unlock value from its vast shale holdings in northeastern B.C.

It's a departure for the company, which has resisted the sorts of joint-venture deals that have been all the rage amongst its oilpatch peers in recent years.

Canadian Natural (TSX:CNQ) is the largest player in the Montney formation, which stretches through parts of northeastern B.C. and northwestern Alberta.

On Thursday, it said it is looking to "monetize" about a quarter of the more than 400,000 hectares it controls in the Montney. The land being offered is in the Graham Kobes area of B.C., an area rich in valuable natural gas liquids and outside of what Canadian Natural considers to be its core position.

Canadian Natural has drastically slowed its natural gas production, with prices of the commodity in the doldrums for several years now.

It is considering either an outright sale or a joint-venture deal with a partner with liquefied natural gas, or LNG, expertise. So far, Canadian Natural has also chosen not to join the throng of companies looking to export LNG from the West Coast.

On a conference call with analysts, Canadian Natural president Steve Laut acknowledged that the company has "not been keen" on joint ventures historically.

"We believe having a high degree of control of our capital allocation allows us to maximize value. We also believe the efforts of our strong team should be directed to creating value for our shareholders, not working interest partners. That is still the case," he said.

"However, in this situation, when we look at the size of our Montney land base and balancing our capital allocation going forward, combined with the strong demand that we see for this type of high quality asset, plus the fact that Graham Kobes is somewhat removed from our core Montney asset base, it is prudent to monetize a portion of our Montney asset base at this time."

Earlier Thursday, Canadian Natural reported a drop in fourth-quarter results and hiked its dividend for the 13th year in a row.

The company earned $352 million, or 32 cents per diluted share, down from $832 million, or 76 cents per share, in the fourth quarter of 2011. Revenue fell to $3.7 billion from $4.2 billion.

On an adjusted basis, the company earned 33 cents per share — down from 88 cents a year earlier and six cents below the consensus estimate of 39 cents per share.

Despite these setbacks, Canadian Natural said its quarterly dividend will rise by two cents per share or 19 per cent to 12.5 cents per share.

On an annualized basis, the dividend will be 50 cents per share and at the latest closing price for Canadian Natural common stock the dividend's yield is about 1.6 per cent.

Canadian Natural shares rose 86 cents, or nearly three per cent, to $32.02 in mid-day trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange Thursday.

The company also announced some management changes on Thursday.

After 37 years at the company, John Langille will retire as vice-chairman after Canadian Natural's annual general meeting in May.

Chief operating officer Tim McKay will have executive vice-president added to his title.

Corey Bieber will become chief financial officer and senior vice-president of finance. Douglas Proll, who had previously held those titles, will become executive vice-president.

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