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As has become a quarterly tradition, on Friday oilfield services kingpin Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB ) distributed an earnings release that set a standard for clarity. However, it also perpetuated the downtrodden situation that's spread across the energy sector.
Unfortunately, like its energy brethren, the company's results, while topping analysts' expectations, were lower than a year ago by 28%. Perhaps not surprisingly, since this time last year both oil and gas prices were in an upward spiral toward July peaks.
For the quarter, the company earned $938.5 million, or $0.78 a share, versus last year's $1.3 billion, or $1.09 a share. Analysts who follow the company had been anticipating a per-share number closer to $0.74. Schlumberger's dip followed similar declines by oilfield service operators Halliburton (NYSE: HAL ) and Weatherford (NYSE: WFT ) .
A major culprit during the quarter was a drop in activity and cancellations of projects that spread across the globe, but were especially pronounced in North America, where the rig count was hit hard by shrinking natural gas prices. The company's bigger (90% of revenues) Oilfield Services unit experienced sequential revenue declines in all of its four geographic divisions. At the same time, the far smaller WesternGeco, which specializes in seismic operations, checked in with an 18% year over year hit to revenues.
One of Schlumberger's strengths is the quality of forward-looking statements from its CEO, Andrew Gould. For instance, Mr. Gould noted that "Our visibility on 2009 has not materially changed from the end of the fourth quarter. We do not see any significant recovery in North American gas drilling before 2010. Overseas, while activity declines will be limited, customers are actively seeking and are obtaining price relief."
But all was not negative for Schlumberger. For instance, the company signed a three-year agreement with Brazil's Petrobras (NYSE: PBR ) focusing on offshore research and development studies. And, with Brazil seemingly positive in the company's sights, Schlumberger also signed a pact with Vale (NYSE: RIO ) that involved offshore software modeling.
So what should Fools do about Schlumberger? My answer relates to so many quality oilfield service companies today (including Baker Hughes (NYSE: BHI ) , which will report this week); if your investment timeframe is longer than normal -- say two or three years -- these are very compelling buys. If not, perhaps your bucks should be deployed elsewhere.
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