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Canada's biggest gas producer Encana Corp. (ECA-T) posted a 19-fold plunge in first-quarter profit as a result of lower natural gas prices, and backed its production target for the year.
For 2011, the company forecast an annual growth per share of 5-7 percent, and said natural gas prices remain at unsustainably low levels.
Along with gas producers across North America, Encana has struggled with stubbornly low prices for the fuel. During the quarter, gas on the New York Mercantile Exchange averaged $4.20 per million British thermal units, down 16 percent from the year before. Canadian gas prices were 23 percent lower.
Encana, which posted a 2 percent rise in quarterly production to about 3.34 billion cubic feet equivalent per day (bcfe/d), expects to produce 3.47-3.52 bcfe/d in 2011.
The company, which is working to close a $5.4 billion shale gas asset sale to PetroChina, earned $78 million, or 11 cents a share, down from $1.49 billion, or $1.96 a share, a year ago.
Analysts on an average expected earnings of 15 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The natural gas producer raised its capital investment for the year to $4.6-$4.8 billion, up from its previous budget target of $4-$4.5 billion.
Cash flow, a glimpse into the company's ability to fund operations, fell 19 percent to $955 million, or $1.29 a share, from $1.17 billion, or $1.56 a share, in the first quarter of 2010.
First-quarter revenue, net of royalties, more than halved to $1.67 billion.