Calgary-based Suncor Energy reported a 32-per cent increase in its first-quarter earnings Tuesday, driven by higher oilsands production.

The country's biggest energy company also hiked its dividend.

Net income was $1.03 billion, or 65 cents a share, compared with $779 million, or 50 cents a share, in the same period a year earlier.

The results came on the same day that Suncor said it planned a 10-per cent increase in its quarterly dividend to 11 cents per common share.


Suncor 3-month chart

Suncor boosted production from its oilsands operations to an average of 322,100 barrels of oil per day during the quarter, compared with 202,300 during the first three months of 2010, when upgrader fires pinched output.

Those results don't include contributions from Suncor's 12-per cent stake in the Syncrude oilsands mine.

"Reliability and operational efficiency have been solid right across the business," CEO Rick George said in a release.

Operating earnings, which strip out one-time items, increased to $1.48 billion, or 94 cents a share, from $370 million, or 24 cents a share.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were on average expecting earnings of 77 cents per share.

Revenue increased to $9.85 billion from $7.41 billion.

Libya unrest hurts overall production

Suncor also provided some insights into how turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East is affecting its production.

The company predicted production will fall by 30,000 barrels per day this year, mainly due to the strife in Libya, where it has shut in production and removed its employees.

Suncor shares closed down 5.6 per cent at $41.55 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Its natural gas operations in Syria, another Arab country where pro-democracy protests have been violent, have been running smoothly so far, George told a conference call with analysts and media.

"The gas field itself is out in the middle of the desert. It's not near any towns of any size, and the gas plant, although located about 70 kilometres away, is also not near any population centres," he said.

The gas is produced for the domestic market, which is short on fuel and electricity, he added.

"So what I would say is I think it's in everybody's interest ... that we keep that facility up and running."

With files from The Canadian Press