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Canadian Oil Sands profit dips after unit outage

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Quarterly profit at Canadian Oil Sands Ltd., owner of the biggest stake in the Syncrude Canada Ltd. oil sands joint venture, fell slightly as production dropped due to unplanned maintenance on a major processing unit, the company said on Monday.

The company, which owns 37 percent of Syncrude, reduced its production target for the year, blaming the outage of the coker unit, but raised its dividend by 17 percent to 35 cents a share, saying business fundamentals are strong.

Canadian Oil Sands earned $321 million, or 66 cents a share, in the first quarter, down from year-earlier $324 million, or 67 cents a share.

The results beat an average estimate among analysts of 54 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Cash flow, a glimpse into the company's ability to fund development, was $454 million, or 94 cents a share, down 5 percent from $478, or 99 cents a share.

During the quarter, Syncrude was plagued by the latest in a series of unplanned outages at its upgrading plant, which turns extra-heavy crude from the northern Alberta oil sands into refinery-ready oil.

The coker unit, called 8-1, was down for a month of repairs following what was termed as a minor fire. That cut production in March and prompted the Syncrude partners to push back planned maintenance on another coker.

Canadian Oil Sands said 8-1 restarted at full rates in April.

The company's average sales price was $97.07 a barrel in the quarter, compared with $93.04 in the first quarter of 2011.

Sales volumes net to the company averaged 108,108 barrels a day in the first quarter, down 11 percent from the year before.

Operating costs were $32.68 a barrel, down from $35.53 a barrel as costs for natural gas fell.

Overall, Syncrude production is now expected to average 301,000 bpd at the midpoint of its annual range, compared with its previous estimate of 309,000.

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