margins@ (Adds details on production, outlook, shares)
Feb 12 (Reuters) - Canadian oil producer Cenovus Energy posted a surprise loss on Wednesday as a fall in refining margins due to higher prices for Canadian heavy crude offset gains at its exploration and production unit.
Production curtailments imposed by Alberta have propped up prices of Canadian heavy crude, reducing the benefit in refining the oil.
Cenovus' refining and marketing operating margin more than halved to C$109 million for the quarter, the company said. Rival Imperial Oil Ltd's refining margins also fell in the fourth quarter.
The Alberta government, however, has eased curtailment rules to allow companies to raise their output with the caveat that they transport the additional crude by rail. Cenovus has projected an increase in production this year on the back of the new rules.
Cenovus, which had earlier expected crude-by-rail volume to ramp up to about 100,000 barrels per day (bbls/d) by the end of 2019, said it exceeded the target by achieving volume of 106,000 bbls/d in December.
The company managed to comply with the government cuts, producing about 467,448 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d), an increase of 8% from a year-ago period when it had restrained production rates due to pipeline constraints.
Net earnings from continuing operations were C$113 million ($85.15 million), or 9 Canadian cents per share, in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with a loss of C$1.35 billion, or C$1.10 per share, a year earlier.
Excluding items, Cenovus posted a loss of 13 Canadian cents per share. Analysts on average had expected the company to report a profit of 11 Canadian cents per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
U.S.-listed shares of the company were up 0.7% in premarket trading. ($1 = 1.3270 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Taru Jain; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)