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Long Lake putting Nexen's credibility at stake: RBC

Nexen in 2001 formed a 50/50 joint venture with OPTI Canada Inc. to develop the Long Lake, Alta., property.

Nexen Inc. has made good progress in the past year selling off non-core assets, including the $975-million sale of heavy oil production in Western Canada, helping it to post a more-than-fourfold jump in net profit in the third quarter.

But the company's continued struggles with operating problems at its Long Lake oil sands project in Alberta are so significant that at least one analyst suggests failure to tackle the problems are putting its entire credibility at stake.

In a research note, RBC Dominion Securities Inc. analyst Greg Pardy said solving Long Lake remains complex and may require an extreme departure from steps taken so far.

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"The market's fatigue regarding limited progress at its Long Lake oil sands project remains the monkey on its back," Pardy said. "What seems abundantly clear is that Nexen's credibility, and its market valuation, will likely remain under pressure until it demonstrates improved operating performance at Long Lake."

Nexen has signalled it will invest a further $100-million at Long Lake over the next two years to establish more isolation between the upgrader and the steam assisted gravity drainage reservoir to improve the project's reliability and performance. The project pumps steam into the ground to loosen up the bitumen so it can be brought up to the surface.

The project was hampered this summer by outages at an upgrading plant and by power interruptions. Current gross production rates are about 31,500 barrels per day, well below Nexen's target rate of 40,000 to 60,000.

Downside: Mr. Pardy maintained a "sector perform (neutral)" rating and one-year target price of $26 per share.

Related: Nexen quarterly profit climbs

Domtar Corp. reported third-quarter earnings per share of $4.26, far outpacing consensus estimates. "We continue to advise investors to buy Domtar shares as strong free cash generation further improves the company's financial positions - setting the stage for additional cash being returned to shareholders," said Raymond James Ltd. analyst Daryl Swetlishoff.

Upside: Mr. Swetlishoff hiked his six- to 12-month target to $115.00 from $90 per share.

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Related: Domtar profit soars in third quarter

Mullen Group Ltd. reported another quarter of weaker-than-expected results amid lackluster revenue from its Oilfield Services division, said RBC Dominion Securities Inc. analyst Walter Spracklin. Mr. Spracklin believes future results may also come in below Street consensus.

Downside: Mr. Spracklin lowered his price target by $2 to $15.00 and downgraded his rating to "sector perform" from "outperform."

TransAlta Corp. is faced with challenging power market fundamentals and full-year 2010 earnings will likely come in flat with 2009, at around 91 cents a share, said UBS Investment Research analyst Chad Friess. Earnings may rise to $1.23 per share in 2011, but that is dependent on improved power prices and trading revenues - two uncertain factors.

Downside: Mr. Friess lowered his 12-month price target by $1 to $20.

Related: TransAlta profit plummets

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Computer consulting firm CGI Group Inc. intends to hire another 1,500 employees in the next year in India, said Versant Partners analyst Tom Liston, citing a newspaper report in the country. That represents 45 per cent employment growth, which will allow CGI to continue to bid on increasingly larger projects, he said.

Upside: Mr. Liston, who has a one-year target of $19.25, continues to recommend investors have an overweight position in CGI.

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About the Author
Investment Editor

Darcy Keith is The Globe and Mail's Investment Editor. He has been a business journalist since 1992 and joined the Report on Business in 2010 from Yahoo! Canada, where he was the senior editor of finance. More

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