(Recasts with CEO comments about asset sales)
By Rod Nickel and Anirban Paul
CALGARY, Alberta, May 10 (Reuters) - Enbridge Inc may sell more assets than expected this year, seeing strong interest from potential buyers after achieving a goal this week for 2018 divestitures.
Enbridge has been under pressure to reduce leverage, one of the factors that has weighed on its share price. Selling assets would also help the company become a pure pipeline utility.
The company announced two sales on Wednesday that will help it exceed its target for $3 billion in divestitures this year, but more deals are being discussed.
"A good example of where we're getting a lot of inbound interest is on the Canadian (gathering and processing) assets in whole or in part," Chief Executive Al Monaco said on a quarterly conference call on Thursday. "Based on what we see at this point, we could move on additional asset sales, which would create added flexibility on (the) financial side."
On Wednesday, Enbridge said it would sell a U.S. gas pipelines business and part of its renewable energy portfolio for a combined $2.5 billion to reduce debt, which stood at $61 billion as of end-2017.
The company has also received bids as high as C$4.5 billion for the Canadian midstream assets it is selling as part of its debt-reduction efforts, Reuters reported.
U.S.-listed shares of Enbridge rose 2.3 percent to $32.85 and its Toronto-listed stock added 1.4 percent to C$42.03. The Toronto shares touched their highest in nearly two months.
Enbridge's first-quarter profit handily topped analysts' forecasts on Thursday, as Canada's largest pipeline operator transported higher volumes of crude oil and natural gas.
Enbridge moved 2.63 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil on its Mainline system across Canada and the United States in the three months ended March 31, up from 2.59 million bpd a year earlier.
The Enbridge Mainline system is Canada's largest transporter of crude oil. It originates in Edmonton, Alberta and extends east across the Prairies to the Canada-U.S. border near Gretna, Manitoba.
Calgary-based Enbridge's first-quarter net income attributable to shareholders fell about 30 percent to C$445 million ($348.15 million) due to one-time costs.
Excluding one-time items, the company earned 82 Canadian cents per share, ahead of analysts' average estimate of 66 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
$1 = 1.2782 Canadian dollars Reporting by Rod Nickel in Calgary, Alberta and Anirban Paul in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernadette Baum