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An Imperial Oil refinery stands in Sarnia, Ont., on March 20, 2021.

CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Imperial Oil Ltd posted a first-quarter profit and raised its quarterly dividend on Friday, bolstered by higher crude prices, as well as improved refining and chemical margins.

Calgary-based Imperial, which is majority-owned by Exxon Mobil Corp, is benefiting from higher global oil prices as fuel usage picks up from last year, when lockdowns intended to stop the spread of COVID-19 decimated demand.

The recovery, however, remains spotty with second and third waves of COVID-19 surging in various parts of the world, including Canada, and an uneven rollout of vaccines.

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Exxon returns to profit, boosted by higher oil and gas prices

The lingering effects of the weak 2020 business environment continues to have a negative impact on financial results in 2021 when compared to periods prior to the pandemic, Imperial said.

“Since we entered 2021 we have seen lower than normal product demand but have seen commodity prices and product markets strengthen,” said Imperial chief executive Brad Corson, adding there would be continued volatility and continued uncertainty.

Imperial posted a profit of $392 million, or 53 cents per share, for the quarter ended March 31, compared to a loss of $1.15 billion, or $1.56 per share, in the previous quarter. The company boosted its dividend by 23 per cent to 27 cents per share.

Upstream production averaged 432,000 gross oil-equivalent barrels per day, the highest first quarter production in 30 years. Total gross production at Kearl, Imperial’s huge oil sands mine in northern Alberta, averaged 251,000 bpd.

Refinery throughput and product sales were lower than in the same period a year earlier due to the impact of the pandemic, but net income from chemicals rose to $67 million in the quarter, up from $21 million in the first quarter of 2020.

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