By Shanti S Nair and Rod Nickel
May 28 (Reuters) - Husky Energy Inc HSE.TO on Tuesday nearly doubled its free cash flow target over five years as it cut its planned capital spending at a time when investors have been calling on oil and gas companies to shore up capital for buybacks and dividends.
Oil production curtailments imposed this year by the government of Canada's energy-rich province Alberta, as well as rising global oil prices, have allowed Canadian producers to rake in the highest revenues in five years. Many favor paying down debt or returning cash to shareholders as uncertainty remains about construction of new Canadian pipeline capacity.
"Oil and gas and energy is pretty unloved," Husky Chief Executive Rob Peabody said at the company's investor day in Toronto. "And Canadian oil and gas is really quite unloved by the investment community."
Total free cash flow before dividends is expected to reach C$8.7 billion between 2019 and 2023, compared with Husky's previous estimate of C$4.8 billion between 2018 and 2022.
Peabody said Husky expected to generate C$800 million in free cash flow this year, not counting the expected sale of some assets. Its bias will be to accelerate returns to shareholders through its dividend.
Husky now expects to spend an average of C$3.15 billion ($2.34 billion) annually from 2019 to 2023, compared with its prior estimate of C$3.5 billion between 2018 and 2022. It intends to increase production by about 100,000 barrels of oil equivalent (boe) per day through 2023.
For 2019, Husky reiterated its plans to spend C$3.3 billion to C$3.5 billion and its production forecast of 290,000 to 305,000 boe per day.
Husky said it was continuing to explore a sale of its Canadian retail and commercial fuels business and Prince George Refinery.
Husky shares rose 1.5 percent in Toronto to C$12.51.
($1 = 1.3472 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Shanti S Nair in Bengaluru and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli and Susan Thomas)
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