‘Unprecedented volatility’: Suncor books $614 million loss as COVID pain persists

Jeff Lagerquist
·3 min read
A view of Suncor Energy logo in Suncor Energy Edmonton Refinery, Alberta.  On Tuesday, September 11, 2018, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
(Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Suncor Energy’s (SU.TO)(SU) chief executive said he refuses to “bet the financial health” of the company by rapidly increasing production to capitalize on improving crude prices, citing risks including a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

Mark Little’s remarks contrast commentary from his counterpart at Cenovus Energy (CVE.TO)(CVE), who touted that company’s strategic production increases during its second quarter.

Canada’s largest oil and gas company booked a better-than-expected second quarter as the energy giant weathered the dual shocks of plunging crude prices and anemic demand for fuel due to COVID-19.

Suncor reported a $614 million or 40 cent per share net loss in the three months ended June 30. That’s compared to a $3.53 billion loss in the second quarter, and net earnings of $2.73 billion in the same period last year. Analysts polled by Bloomberg expected an adjusted loss of $0.68 per share.

“We experienced unprecedented volatility this quarter in all facets of our business as the COVID-19 pandemic and OPEC+ supply issues continued to impact the industry,” Little said in a news release on Wednesday. “We will remain agile in the execution of our strategy as we continue to focus on the long-term financial health of the company.”

Speaking on a post-earnings conference call with analysts on Thursday, Little said gasoline, diesel and jet fuel demand in the quarter fell by approximately 50 per cent, 25 per cent, and over 80 per cent, respectively. He referred to the period as “the most challenging in our modern history,” requiring “drastic” measures to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic and global supply pressure.

Toronto-listed shares fell 4.07 per cent to $23 at 10:38 a.m. ET on Thursday.

Suncor and many of its peers defended against pandemic by cutting capital spending, paring dividends, and slowing production. The Calgary-based company is the first of several major Canadian oil and gas firms to report financial results this week. Bay Street money managers told Yahoo Finance Canada they remain cautious on the sector, even as crude prices appear to stabilize near US$40 per barrel.

Suncor said its upstream production decreased to 655,500 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d) in the second quarter, down more than 18 per cent year-over-year. Refinery utilization averaged 76 per cent in the quarter as demand for gasoline, jet fuel and other refined products fluctuated due to the global pandemic.

The company’s $614 million net loss was partially offset by a $478-million unrealized after-tax foreign exchange gain on U.S. dollar denominated debt. The company reported an operating loss of $1.49 billion, compared to operating earnings of $1.25 billion in the second quarter of 2019.

Suncor said it remains on track to achieve its $1 billion operating cost reduction target, and $1.9 billion capital cost reduction target by the end of 2020. The company’s operating, selling and general expenses decreased by $811 million quarter-over-quarter.

“The pace of an economic recovery is challenging to determine with the overall outlook for crude oil demand dependent on how successful nations are at combating the pandemic and changes to current social restrictions,” the company said in its guidance on Wednesday. “The COVID-19 pandemic is an evolving situation.”

Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist.

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