There's Lots to Be Learned From Schlumberger's Quarter

Oil-field services giant Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB  ) kicked off the fourth-quarter reporting season for its all-important sector on Friday. The company's per-share results were a touch better than the most recent consensus expectation, and the top-line figure beat the analysts' forecast by more than 3%.

For the quarter, it earned $1.36 million, or $1.02 per share, a decline from the $1.41 million, or $1.05 per share, for the final quarter of 2011. However, if you back out items, the most recent quarter's per-share figure came in at $1.08, a penny above the final pre-release consensus from the analysts who follow the company. Revenues for the quarter reached $11.17 billion, vs. the analysts' expectation of $10.82 and the $10.30 figure of a year ago. For the full year, Schlumberger's revenues rose 14% to $42 billion.

Understanding the segments
It's frequently difficult for all but the most seasoned energy investors to discern the specific functions performed by oil-field services companies. In Schlumberger's case, its offerings are divided into three relatively self-explanatory oil-field services units: reservoir characterization -- much of which involves seismic operations -- along with separate drilling and production segments.

For the past quarter, revenues for the reservoir characterization group grew sequentially by 8% to $3.2 billion. At the same time, drilling group revenues were up 2% from the immediately prior quarter to $4.1 billion, and the production unit's revenues increased sequentially by 7% to $3.9 billion. From a geographic perspective, international revenues expanded by 6% to $409 million, while those generated in North America were up 4% to $3.4 billion.

To further clarify Schlumberger's specific product and service offering, let's take a look at a few of the projects that the company was awarded or in which it was involved during the past quarter. For instance, its revenue characterization unit was awarded a sizable contract by BP (NYSE: BP  ) for a large 3D marine seismic survey off the coast of Indonesia. In addition, the unit received a pair of contracts from Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-B  ) for a pair of 4D monitor surveys in Nigeria and Malaysia.

Among the drilling segment's projects, one involved participating in a horizontal well drilling campaign for CNOOC (NYSE: CEO  ) in the South China Sea. The same unit employed its pressure-while-drilling technology for a Total (NYSE: TOT  ) project in Nigeria. The production group was awarded an integrated services contract by Shell for unconventional operations in the promising Vaca Muerta shale formation in Argentina. At the same time, the unit was employed by Eni (NYSE: E  ) to add its PropGUARD fiber during the proppant stage of a project in Congo.

A terrific new partner
In yet another area for the company, I've recently described to Fools Schlumberger's newly announced OneSubsea joint venture with Cameron International (NYSE: CAM  ) . The venture will be charged with developing products and services for the rapidly expanding world of subsea completions and production.

When asked during his company's post-release call about the specific thought process behind entering the venture, CEO Paal Kibsgaard said:

... the creation of OneSubsea will allow us to make a much more significant entry into the overall subsea business. We have some very good ... niche technologies, and Framo has seen tremendous growth in recent years. But it was evident that we need to combine that with a much broader offering. And I think Cameron is going to be an excellent partner for us...

Where the action is in North Africa
It's worth noting, given events of the past week in Algeria that -- given its activities in about 85 countries worldwide -- Schlumberger conducts operations in Algeria, along with the other North African producing nations, Libya and Egypt. Indeed, as the third quarter came to a close, the company was awarded a $341 million contract with Sonatrach, Algeria's state-owned energy company.

While there haven't yet been announcements from Schlumberger regarding altered operations in Algeria or its neighbors, BP noted on Friday that hundreds of workers from international oil companies have been evacuated from Algeria. At the same time, Nuri Berruien, who heads up Libya's National Oil Corporation, said that security was being increased in the oil fields in the western part of his country along the border with Algeria. Even in Egypt, which obviously is farther from Algeria, evacuations of workers haven't been ruled out by companies employed there.

The Foolish takeaway
All in all, it appears likely that Schlumberger will continue to benefit during 2013 from the combination of its geologic spread and technological supremacy. Kibsgaard said as much in concluding his formal comments on his company's analyst call:

... we expect the overall market trends of 2012 to carry forward into 2013, with solid growth in international spending and strong activity in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, with the offsetting factor being continued challenges in North America land. In this environment, our well-balanced business portfolio, wide geographical footprint and strong operational execution capabilities position us well to capitalize on these trends and to continue to show good growth in overall earnings per share.

It seems that those comments sum up Schlumberger's strengths appropriately. Indeed, having been in and around the oil-field services industry for some time, it remains difficult for me to point out a more compelling story in the sector than that presented by Schlumberger.


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