Schlumberger and Baker Hughes target oil exploration ‘upcycle’

An oil drilling rig stands on the Bakken formation in Watford City, North Dakota. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg
An oil drilling rig stands on the Bakken formation in Watford City, North Dakota. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg

Schlumberger Ltd., the world’s biggest oilfield services company, and No. 3 Baker Hughes have their sights set in different directions as they move into the second-half of 2018.

Schlumberger is accelerating sales in North America faster than any other region as it battles fracking king Halliburton Co. for market share. As for Baker Hughes, the words “Permian Basin” — the premier U.S. oilfield — never appeared in a Friday announcement that focused on plans to expand abroad.

While Baker Hughes’ second-quarter results fell short of analysts’ estimates, both companies painted a rosy picture for the second half in statements Friday, especting to cash in on the start of a broad-based worldwide oil recovery. By year’s end, Schlumberger said it expects business to be so brisk it will sell out the services and equipment it supplies internationally.

“Both are starting to see the early stages of what looks to be a very healthy international and offshore upcycle,” James West, an analyst at Evercore ISI, said Friday in a phone interview.

As the first major oil-servicers to disclose quarterly results, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes displayed strong indications that international theaters may be closing the gap with American shale, offering alternatives to increasingly congested regions such as the U.S. Permian Basin.

Technical Experts

International demand for the technical experts, equipment and brute strength provided by oilfield servicers is expanding after OPEC and allied crude producers agreed just weeks ago to elevate output. Seeking to plug a supply gap stemming from output declines in places like Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Russia have already boosted drilling and output.

Pricing for Schlumberger’s services outside the U.S. and Canada improved during the quarter and the company said it’s expecting a further strengthening by 2019. Baker Hughes, wrapping its first full year of operations after merging with the oilfield unit of General Electric Co., said overseas orders expanded at a faster rate than in North America.

Schlumberger shares rose by 0.5 percent in early trading. Baker Hughes fell 2.5 percent.

Although Schlumberger registered a broadly global upturn in demand for its services and gear, North American orders are piling up faster than any other region, the company reported. As of the end of June, North America’s contribution to Schlumberger’s sales had increased to 38 percent from 30 percent a year earlier.

Downturn’s Over

The Houston- and Paris-based company’s second-quarter adjusted profit of 43 cents a share matched the average estimate of 27 analysts in a Bloomberg survey.

“Although the last four years have been marked by the deepest downturn in generations, we have capitalized on a number of market opportunities while simultaneously transforming our company to be even more competitive in the broad-based recovery that is now emerging,” Paal Kibsgaard, CEO of Schlumberger, said in the statement.

As for Baker Hughes, overseas orders in its biggest business unit increased by 8 percent during the April-to-June period, ahead of the 7 percent growth rate in its home North American market.

“We are seeing signs of increasing international activity in some geomarkets,” Chief Executive Officer Lorenzo Simonelli said in the statement.

Beset by performance and profit pressures of its own, GE is already planning to shed its 62.5 percent stake in Baker Hughes over the next two to three years.