Schlumberger Waits for International Oil Spending to Pick Up

  • No. 1 oil service provider posts loss of $204 million
  • Company sees spending recovery first in North America

Schlumberger Ltd. is waiting for the rest of the world’s oil producers to catch up to the North American crude recovery.

The world’s largest oilfield service provider sees international spending picking up in the second half of the year and into 2018, Chief Executive Officer Paal Kibsgaard told analysts and investors on an earnings conference call Friday.

That will follow growth in North America, which has been adding rigs as oil prices stabilized and is forecast to see spending increase about 30 percent, he said. The promise of international growth was not enough for investors -- Schlumberger fell the most in more than a month.

"They’re a little bit less exposed to onshore North America than others," Rob Desai, an analyst at Edward Jones in St. Louis who rates the shares a buy and owns none, said in a phone interview. "There will be a little bit slower international recovery, and given Schlumberger is more international, they’ll benefit a little less near term."

Schlumberger, which generates most of its sales outside the U.S. and Canada, reported a narrower loss in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier. Service companies that help explorers map pockets of underground oil, drill wells and boost output were first to feel the effects of the collapse in oil prices that begin in mid-2014. They’ve also been hit the hardest, contributing more than three-quarters of the 440,000 jobs slashed around the world during the oil industry’s worst financial crisis in a generation.

Schlumberger acquired Cameron International Corp. for $2.7 billion during the downturn, seeking to broaden its oilfield-equipment manufacturing. That unit is expected to hit a low for sales and margins in the first three months of the year, with margins improving in the second quarter, Scott Rowe, who heads the group, said on the call.

Offshore work, which is generally more expensive, has proven less resilient than drilling on land in North America as prices recover. With revenues falling for more than four straight quarters on its North American offshore work, the business environment there could become unsustainable, Kibsgaard said. That "will either lead to a recovery in service pricing or a narrowing of our service offerings." The service provider may move some of its assets from the region to other markets that offer better returns, he said.

The company reported net loss of $204 million, or 15 cents a share, after a loss of $1.02 billion, or 81 cents, a year earlier, according to a statement Friday. Excluding certain items, the profit was 27 cents, more than the 26-cent average of 38 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Revenue fell 8.2 percent to $7.1 billion.

The company, which has 34 buy ratings from analysts, 9 holds and 1 sell, fell 0.7 percent to $86.56 at 10:20 a.m. in New York, after declining as much as 1.9 percent.

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